19.1.1: Taxonomy - Biology

19.1.1: Taxonomy - Biology

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At least 1.7 million species of living organisms have been discovered, and the list grows longer every year (especially of insects in the tropical rain forest). How are they to be classified? Ideally, classification should be based on homology; that is, shared characteristics that have been inherited from a common ancestor. The more recently two species have shared a common ancestor, the more homologies they share and the more similar these homologies are. Until recent decades, the study of homologies was limited to anatomical structures and pattern of embryonic development. However, since the birth of molecular biology, homologies can now also be studied at the level of proteins and DNA.

Anatomical homology: an example

The figure shows the bones in the forelimbs of three mammals: human, whale, and bat (obviously not drawn to the same scale!). Although used for such different functions as throwing, swimming, and flying, the same basic structural plan is evident in them all. In each case, the bone shown in color is the radius. Body parts are considered homologous if they have

  • the same basic structure
  • the same relationship to other body parts
  • develop in a similar manner in the embryo

It seems unlikely that a single pattern of bones represents the best possible structure to accomplish the functions to which these forelimbs are put. However, if we interpret the persistence of the basic pattern as evidence of inheritance from a common ancestor, we see that the various modifications are adaptations of the plan to the special needs of the organism. It tells us that evolution is opportunistic, working with materials that have been handed down by inheritance.

Protein Sequences

Protein sequencing provides a tool for establishing homologies from which genealogies can be constructed and phylogenetic trees drawn. Here are two examples.


An example of molecular homology.

The numbers represent the number of amino acid differences between the beta chain of human hemoglobin and the hemoglobins of the other species. In general, the number is inversely proportional to the closeness of kinship. All the values listed are for the beta chain except for the last three, in which the distinction between alpha and beta chains does not occur. The human beta chain contains 146 amino acid residues, as do most of the others.

Cytochrome c

Cytochrome c is part of the electron transport chain down which electrons are passed to oxygen during cellular respiration. Cytochrome c is found in the mitochondria of every aerobic eukaryote - animal, plant, and protist. The amino acid sequences of many of these have been determined, and comparing them shows that they are related. Human cytochrome c contains 104 amino acids, and 37 of these have been found at equivalent positions in every cytochrome c that has been sequenced. We assume that each of these molecules has descended from a precursor cytochrome in a primitive microbe that existed over 2 billion years ago. In other words, these molecules are homologous.

The first step in comparing cytochrome c sequences is to align them to find the maximum number of positions that have the same amino acid. Sometimes gaps are introduced to maximize the number of identities in the alignment (none was needed in this table). Gaps correct for insertions and deletions that occurred during the evolution of the molecule.

This table shows the N-terminal 22 amino acid residues of human cytochrome c with the corresponding sequences from six other organisms aligned beneath. A dash indicates that the amino acid is the same one found at that position in the human molecule. All the vertebrate cytochromes (the first four) start with glycine (Gly). The Drosophila, wheat, and yeast cytochromes have several amino acids that precede the sequence shown here (indicated by <<<). In every case, the heme group of the cytochrome is attached to Cys-14. and Cys-17 (human numbering). In addition to the two Cys residues, Gly-1, Gly-6, Phe-10, and His-18 are found at the equivalent positions in every cytochrome c that has been sequenced.

We assume that the more identities there are between two molecules, the more recently they have evolved from a common ancestral molecule and thus the closer the kinship of their owners. Thus the cytochrome c of the rhesus monkey is identical to that of humans except for one amino acid, whereas yeast cytochrome c differs from that of humans at 44 positions. (There are no differences between the cytochrome c of humans and that of chimpanzees.)

Phylogenetic trees

With such information, one can reconstruct an evolutionary history of the molecule and thus of their respective owners. This requires

  • using the genetic code to determine the minimum number of nucleotide substitutions in the DNA of the gene needed to derive one protein from another
  • a powerful computer program to search for the shortest paths linking the molecules together

The result is a phylogenetic tree. This one (the work of Walter M. Fitch and Emanuel Margoliash) shows the relationship between 20 species of eukaryotes. The numbers represent the minimum number of nucleotide substitutions in the gene for cytochrome c needed to produce these 20 proteins from a series of hypothetical ancestral genes at the various branching points (nodes).

The tree corresponds quite well to what we have long believed to be the evolutionary relationships among the vertebrates. But there are some anomalies. It indicates, for example, that the primates (humans and monkeys) split off before the split separating the kangaroo, a marsupial, from the other placental mammals. This is certainly wrong. But sequence analysis of other proteins can resolve such discrepancies.

Cytochrome c is an ancient molecule, and it has evolved very slowly. Even after more than 2 billion years, one-third of its amino acids are unchanged. This conservatism is a great help in working out the evolutionary relationships between distantly-related creatures like fish and humans.

But what of humans and the great apes? Their cytochrome c molecules are identical and can tell us nothing about evolutionary relationships. However, some proteins have evolved much more rapidly than cytochrome c, and these can be used to decipher recent evolutionary events. During blood clotting, short peptides are cut from fibrinogen converting it into insoluble fibrin. Once removed, these fibrinopeptides have no further function. They have been pretty much free from the rigors of natural selection and have, consequently, diverged rapidly during evolution. So they provide data useful in sorting out the twigs of phylogenetic trees of mammals, for example.

DNA-DNA Hybridization

As we saw in the comparison of human and kangaroo cytochrome c, a single molecule provides only a narrow window for glimpsing evolutionary relationships.

The technique of DNA-DNA hybridization provides a way of comparing the total genome of two species. Let us examine the procedure as it might be used to assess the evolutionary relationship of species B to species A:

  • The total DNA is extracted from the cells of each species and purified.
  • For each, the DNA is heated so that it becomes denatured into single strands (ssDNA).
  • The temperature is lowered just enough to allow the multiple short sequences of repetitive DNA to rehybridize back into double-stranded DNA (dsDNA).
  • The mixture of ssDNA (representing single genes) and dsDNA (representing repetitive DNA) is passed over a column packed with hydroxyapatite. The dsDNA sticks to the hydroxyapatite; ssDNA does not and flows right through. The purpose of this step is to be able to compare the information-encoding portions of the genome — mostly genes present in a single copy — without having to worry about varying amounts of noninformative repetitive DNA.
  • The ssDNA of species A is made radioactive.
  • The radioactive ssDNA is then allowed to rehybridize with nonradioactive ssDNA of the same species (A) as well as — in a separate tube — the ssDNA of species B.
  • After hybridization is complete, the mixtures (A/A) and (A/B) are individually heated in small (2°–3°C) increments. At each higher temperature, an aliquot is passed over hydroxyapatite. Any radioactive strands (A) that have separated from the DNA duplexes pass through the column, and the amount is measured from their radioactivity.
  • A graph showing the percentage of ssDNA at each temperature is drawn.
  • The temperature at which 50% of the DNA duplexes (dsDNA) have been denatured (T50H) is determined.

As the figure shows, the curve for A/B is to the left of A/A, i.e., duplexes of A/B separated at a lower temperature than those of A/A. The sequences of A/A are precisely complementary so all the hydrogen bonds between complementary base pairs (A-T, C-G) must be broken in order to separate the strands. But where the gene sequences in B differ from those in A, no base pairing will have occurred and denaturation is easier.

Thus DNA-DNA hybridization provides genetic comparisons integrated over the entire genome. Its use has cleared up several puzzling taxonomic relationships. DNA-DNA hybridization can also be used to compare genomes of mixed populations of organisms. For example, when all the bacteria are extracted from 10 g of uncontaminated soil (there are about 1010 cells in it!), the DNA extracted and purified from the bacteria and subjected to DNA-DNA hybridization analysis, the resulting curves indicate that there are over a million different species in the soil sample, although the population is dominated by only a few of these.

Chromosome Painting

Another way to compare entire genomes is to attach a fluorescent label to the DNA of individual chromosomes of one species (e.g., human) and expose the chromosomes of another species to it. Regions of gene homology will hybridize taking up the fluorescent label and the "painted" chromosomes can be examined under the microscope.

The method is a modification of fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and is also called Zoo-FISH.

Chromosome painting has shown, for example, that large sections of human chromosome 6 (which includes hundreds of genes in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) have their counterpart; i.e. homologous genes, in

  • chromosome 5 of the chimpanzee
  • chromosome B2 of the domestic cat
  • chromosome 7 of the pig
  • chromosome 23 of the cow

Comparing DNA Sequences

Proteins are the expression of genes so why not compare the actual gene sequences? There are several advantages:

  • DNA is much easier to sequence than protein.
  • Genes contain sites that are much freer to change during evolution than protein sequences are. These include:
    • nucleotides that produce synonymous codons. For example, even if the amino acid at position 20 in two proteins is the same, the codons for that amino acid might be different in the two species.
    • Introns and flanking sequences. These regions are relatively free to vary without hurting the final protein product. In other words, these regions of the genome are under much less pressure from natural selection.
  • DNA is more stable than protein in the environment. This raises the possibility of doing DNA sequencing on the remains of extinct organisms. Neaderthal remains over 38,000 years old have yielded samples of DNA that were successfully sequenced.

Some of the most informative studies using comparative DNA sequencing have been done with

  • rDNA genes; that is, the genes encoding the rRNA molecules (usually of the small subunit (18S in eukaryotes; 16S in bacteria) of the ribosome.
  • genes on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

In both cases, the genes are present in multiple copies making their isolation easier.


Ideally, a system of classification should reflect the genealogies of the organisms. Darwin realized this when he wrote: "our classifications will come, as far as they can be so made, genealogies". A classification based strictly on the rule that all members of a group must have shared a common ancestor more recently than they have with any species outside the group is called cladistics.

This phylogenetic tree or cladogram depicts the evolutionary relationships of 4 hypothetical species.

  • They are all descended from an ancestor with 5 traits (1,2,3,4,5) to be used in drawing the tree.
  • Over the course of time, 3 speciation events occurred producing the branches.
  • During this time, several of the ancestral traits evolved into a modified or derived form; each one indicated by a different color.
  • Taxonomists who use cladistic methods have created an extraordinary vocabulary to help them (not necessarily us).
    • Ancestral traits are called plesiomorphic (shown here as black numbers).
    • Derived traits are called apomorphic (shown here as colored numbers). All the members of a clade must share one or more apomorphic traits not found in any other species.
    • Derived traits shared by two or more species are called synapomorphic. Here species A and B share the synapomorphic trait designated with a blue 3.
    • Ancestral traits shared by two or more species are called symplesiomorphic. Here, the trait shown as black 1 is a symplesiomorphic trait retained by all 4 species.
  • Note that in comparing the species, the more recent the common ancestor, the more apomorphic traits they share. Thus species C and D share 4 of the 5 traits but only three (1, 2, and 5) with species A and only two (1 and 5) with species B.

Even if we reconstruct a precise genealogy and draw a phylogenetic tree to represent it, taxonomic problems may still remain.

  1. The species is the only taxonomic category that exists in nature. All higher categories (e.g., genus, family, and order) are purely arbitrary. They are created by taxonomists. For example,
    • Should species C and D be placed in a single genus with A and B in another?
    • Or are all four sufficiently closely related that they belong in a single genus?
    • Or are all four so distantly related that they should be placed in separate genera?
    • Note that none of these options (and others besides) violates the fundamental rule that all the members of any one group (or "clade") must have had a common ancestor more recent than any they share with species in other groups.

Those taxonomists who are particularly impressed by the differences between species tend to increase the number of higher categories. Those with this bias are known fondly as "splitters". "Lumpers", those taxonomists who marvel at the uniformities they see among species, tend to create fewer higher categories. Thus, splitters might put each of the 4 species in separate genera while lumpers would put them in a single genus.

  1. Classifications based strictly on cladistics are too complex for convenience. In principle, a separate category has to be created for all the branches derived from each node of the tree. The box shows the conventional classification of Homo sapiens (in the order Primates of the class Mammalia). Compare it with the graphic above the box showing a classification of just the primates based more closely on cladistics.


Scientific names. The Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus - the "father of taxonomy" - created the system for naming species that is used by biologists throughout the world. The scientific name of each species consists of two parts:

  • the name of the genus to which it is assigned and
  • the "specific epithet" which identifies the particular species within the genus.

Latin names were used by Linnaeus, but so many species have been discovered since then that now taxonomists simply coin new words and cast the genus name in the form of a Latin noun and the specific epithet as a Latin adjective. By tradition, both names are printed in italics, and the genus name is capitalized, but not the specific epithet. Note, too, that the characters of the Roman alphabet are always used even by biologists in countries where different characters are used for ordinary purposes.

Here is a description of a common jellyfish as it appears in a Japanese guide to marine life.

Reprinted with permission from Hoikusha Publishing Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan

  1. A classification based strictly on evolutionary kinship (cladistics) also may often seem to violate common sense. Thus a phylogenetic tree showing the evolutionary history that gave rise to the salmon (a fish), the lungfish, and the cow requires - according to cladistics - that the lungfish and cow be placed in a clade separate from the salmon. Even though the lungfish is a fish, the cow has shared a common ancestor with it more recently than its common ancestor with the salmon. Although it is traditional to classify the lungfish and the salmon together in the class Pisces (fishes), and to assign the cow to the class Mammalia, this violates the rule of cladistics (so Pisces is said to be a paraphyletic group). The lungfish and the cow with their apomorphic traits of internal nostrils and epiglottis are descended from a common ancestor (red arrow) that is also the ancestor of all land-living vertebrates (including ourselves!).

Even Darwin recognized that kinship alone was not always enough for a sound taxonomy so he added a second criterion - degree of similarity - to be used in assigning species to a taxonomic category.

  1. Deducing the evolutionary history of animals is particularly difficult because all the 24 or more phyla of animals appeared within a short time before and during the Cambrian and have since evolved along separate lines. This means that all the branches on the phylogenetic tree are long and bunched so closely at their base that it is difficult to determine their relationships.
  2. Computer power. More data would help, but as more data become available, the ability of computer programs to sort out the most likely tree becomes overwhelmed.
  3. Changing rate of evolution. There is considerable evidence that mutation rates are not steady from branch to branch in phylogenetic trees. Thus a branch based on molecules that have evolved rapidly would seem longer than otherwise.
  4. Back mutations. These mask the changes that preceded them and make branches look shorter than they should be.
  5. Gene transfer between species. The recent availability of complete gene sequences for many bacteria have revealed genes that appear to have passed from one group to another rather than having been descended from a common ancestor. Most of these "horizontal" gene transfers are between two different species of bacteria, but the gene sequence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis reveals 8 genes that it appears to have picked up from its human host! So many horizontal gene transfers have occurred that some bacterial taxonomists despair that a proper phylogenetic tree can ever be deduced for them.
  6. Convergent evolution. Evolution in which two species from different genealogies come to resemble each other is called convergent evolution and structures that resemble each other superficially (and may serve the same function) are called analogous.

There are many examples of marsupial mammals in Australia which bear a striking resemblance to placental mammals of Europe and North America. The North American woodchuck or groundhog and the Australian wombat (photo courtesy of the Australian News and Information Bureau), for examples, look superficially to be close relatives. But their similarities are analogous, not homologous, and have arisen as a result of similar selection pressures in similar ecological niches. The wombat has no placenta, cares for its young in a pouch as other marsupials do, and should be classified with them. In fact we are more closely related to the North American woodchuck than the wombat is!

In the language of cladistics, the wombat is placed in a clade with all marsupials because they share the marsupial pouch (an apomorphic trait) but are nonetheless mammals because they, too, have hair (a plesiomorphic trait).

Convergent evolution also occurs at the level of molecules.


  • Cows and langur monkeys both synthesize a lysozyme that share the same activity, but comparison of their amino acid sequences indicates that each has evolved from a different ancestral molecule.
  • Cows and the bacterium Yersinia both synthesize a tyrosine phosphatase with similar three-dimensional structures around their active site and similar activity. However, each has evolved from a totally different ancestral molecule.
  • The bacterium Bacillus subtilis synthesizes a serine protease that acts just like those synthesized by mammals but not only has an entirely different primary structure but its three-dimensional structure (tertiary) structure is different as well.
  • Representatives of four different orders of insects, orders that last shared a common ancestor 300 million years ago, have independently evolved an identical point mutation in their Na+/K+ ATPase which protects it from inactivation by the cardiac glycosides in the plants on which they feed. Link to an illustrated discussion of how this mutation can lead to aposematic coloration and mimicry.

Taxonomy and biology of Fusarium moniliforme

Fusarium moniliforme is one of the most prevalent fungi associated with basic human and animal dietary samples such as corn. This fungus has been suspected of being involved in human and animal diseases since its original description. Fusarium moniliforme is in the section Liseola along with F. proliferatum, F. subglutinans, and F. anthophilum. Cultural mutation often occurs when F. moniliforme is grown on a medium rich in carbohydrates. Mutants may be either the mycelial or pionnotal type and often lose virulence and the ability to produce toxins. Toxins produced by F. moniliforme are fusaric acid, fusarins, gibberellins, moniliformin, and fumonisins. The fumonisins are produced most often when F. moniliforme grows on corn. Fusarium moniliforme causes ear rot and stalk rot of corn and infection of corn kernels by this fungus is widespread. Infection of developing corn kernels may occur through the silks, through holes and fissures in the pericarp or at points where the pericarp is torn by the emerging seedling, and as a result of systemic infection of the corn plant by F. moniliforme. These models of infection as well as infestation of the kernel surface are important factors when considering the production of fumonisins in corn.

How Scientific Taxonomy Constructed the Myth of Race

Botanist Carl Linnaeus' classification system has been adopted around the globe—but have we adequately reckoned with how his ideas about humans laid the groundwork for scientific racism?

A s a graduate assistant in biological anthropology at the University at Buffalo, I was tasked with curating the primate skeletal collection. The collection of skeletons—taken from cadavers studied during a primate anatomy class—had been neglected for a few years. Most of the specimens had lost their labels. So, when I began re-cataloguing the collection in 2016, I ran into trouble.

I knew that the skeletons were from three different species of macaques, but I didn’t know how to tell them apart, given that most research tends to focus on skeletal variation at a higher taxonomic rank, like genus or family. I wondered if one species had an anatomical feature that others did not which had been overlooked by previous scientists.

T his project ended up becoming the topic of my dissertation. I started reading everything I could about macaque skeletons, taxonomy, and evolution. I also found myself gravitating toward books and papers on the history of taxonomy as a science.

T he field of taxonomy, historically, is dominated by one man: Carl Linnaeus. Often called “The Father of Taxonomy,” Linnaeus invented binomial nomenclature, the formal system used to classify the natural world. The creation of this system, which is still used today, has made him one of the most influential people in history. Children often learn Linnaean taxonomy in school and grow up thinking that this ordering system is objective and neutral.

B ut, in my research on the history of taxonomy, it became apparent that while Linnaeus did play a crucial role in creating a formalized system to classify the natural world, this system left damaging effects. Aside from what historians today see as his Eurocentrism and sexism (see, for example, his snubbing of Jane Colden, a pioneering botanist), he promoted deeply misguided theories regarding human variation. These views effectively laid the groundwork for scientific racism—the pseudoscientific idea that racism can be justified with empirical evidence.

T hese completely faulty ideas continue to shape how some people think about race today—as a biological fact rather than as a social construct. Where did these ideas come from, and how did they become so central to science?

L innaeus is a big part of the answer to that question.


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L ike many men in 18th-century Europe, Linnaeus was groomed for a career in the Protestant church. Though he ended up becoming a botanist rather than a clergyman, his scientific theories were guided by religious teachings. During his time as a student at Uppsala University in Sweden, Linnaeus sought to develop a more organized classification system for plants than what existed at the time.

H e was inspired by Aristotle’s work theorizing a hierarchical ladder (Latinized to scala naturae, later called the Great Chain of Being) where all matter and living organisms were arranged on a continuum based on advancement, with humans at the top followed by other mammals, vertebrates, invertebrates, insects, plants, rocks, and minerals. Medieval Christians added “spiritual beings” to the ladder, placing God at the top, followed by angels, humans, and so on.

T his framework supported the popular European view of nature that separated humans from animals. Linnaeus, too, followed this logic in his classification scheme, deciding that the most natural scientific order was a hierarchical one, where organisms were ranked according to their intelligence, as he thought God intended.

I n 1735, the first edition of Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae was published. The text presented a working classification of matter and living organisms, including humans. Linnaeus, following Aristotle’s idea that “man is animal,” created the class “Anthropomorpha,” which he subdivided into three genera: Homo (human), Simia (meaning ape and also some monkeys), and Bradypus (sloth). (Contrary to common lore, Linnaeus was not the first thinker to connect humans with apes. The 12th-century Muslim scholar Nidhami Arudi made similar links, but his work was often overlooked by Europeans and remains underrecognized today.)

Carl Linnaeus published the first edition of Systema Naturae in 1735. Carl Linnaeus/Wikimedia Commons

T his part of Linnaeus’ framework ended up being rather controversial the idea that humans, apes, and sloths all belong in the same order went against church teachings. The pope forbade the use of his books, and Linnaeus was widely criticized. His peers mocked him for imagining himself “a second Adam,” in reference to the Biblical Adam, who is said to have named animals in the Garden of Eden.

A lthough many mocked him, some of his peers and students (called “Linnaeus’ apostles”) still considered him the foremost expert on botanical classification during his lifetime. However, shortly after his death in 1778, Linnaeus’ legacy was all but forgotten. This remained true until Swedish nationalism grew in the 19th century, and Linnaeus was reclaimed from history and became the country’s icon.

I n the first edition, Linnaeus coined the term Homo and divided humans into four varieties: Europaeus albus (people from Europe), Americanus rubescens (people from the Americas), Asiaticus fuscus (people from Asia), and Africanus niger (people from Africa). (In science, genus and species names, such as Homo sapiens, are italicized none of Linnaeus’ original classifications of humans are considered valid species names today, so they are not italicized here.)

T he fact that there were four human varieties reflected a tendency within European natural philosophy to divide the world into sets of four: the four rivers in the Garden of Eden the four (known) continents the four universal elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and the four humors (blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm) that governed human health.

L innaeus saw a connection there—geography influenced climate, and together, climate and the humors provided an observable characteristic in humans: skin color. Thus, in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae (1758), Linnaeus formally made this connection, saying that people from Europe were governed by the humor white phlegm, so they had whitish skin, while people from the Americas were governed by the humor blood and had reddish skin.

These completely faulty ideas continue to shape how some people think about race today—as a biological fact rather than as a social construct.

I n this edition, Linnaeus also replaced “Anthropomorpha” with “Primates” and named humans Homo sapiens, revising his taxonomic definition of the species. He changed the names of the varieties to Homo americanus, Homo europaeus, Homo asiaticus, and Homo africanus. Linnaeus also suggested two new varieties: Homo ferus (wild children) and Homo monstrosus, or individuals he considered to be abnormally shaped by their environments, such as those from the high mountains (“Alpine dwarfs,” “Patagonian giants”), the “Hottentots,” and European women with artificially constrained waists.

L innaeus based these varieties on physical characteristics such as skin color and hair color geographic location and perceived behaviors. For example, Homo americanus was defined as those with “straight, black, and thick hair gaping nostrils … beardless chin” and “unyielding, cheerful, and free” behavior. Homo europaeus were those with “plenty of yellow hair blue eyes” and were “light, wise, inventor[s].” Homo asiaticus had “blackish hair, dark eyes” and were “stern, haughty, greedy.” Homo africanus were those with “dark hair, with many twisting braids silky skin flat nose swollen lips” and were “sly, sluggish, neglectful.”

I n the first edition of Systema Naturae, “Europaeus” were classified at the top of the Homo hierarchy. Linnaeus later revised this, placing “Asiaticus” at the top. By the 10th edition, “Americanus” moved to the top, perhaps because he was guided by the idea of the “noble savage,” which, in the 18th century, was used to describe Indigenous people who were “free from sin, appetite, or the concept of right and wrong.”

N otably, “Africanus” continually remained at the bottom of the hierarchy, and Linnaeus’ description of “Africanus” was the most detailed, and the most negative. Around the same time that Linnaeus was writing, Sweden was involved in the enslavement of Africans, and therefore it would have been in the country’s interest to portray Africans as inferior.

T he fact that Linnaeus aligned physical traits like skin color with variable characteristics such as behavior, clothing, and politics meant that he was not interested in identifying “discrete and stable types.” By this logic, Linnaeus did not directly suggest the existence of distinct human “races.” Importantly, the concept of “race” as meaning the division of humans on the basis of physical traits was not apparently used in the 18th century. However, the 1792 English translation of Systema Naturae presented Linnaeus’ human varieties as “subspecies,” which likely led to the later assumption that Linnaeus himself believed in human races.

R egardless, it is fair to say that, as the first serious attempt to subdivide humans into categories globally, Linnaeus’ formalized system of ordering and ranking humans later led to racial categories.

H istory has shown that these ideas were picked up by eugenicists such as German biologist Ernst Haeckel in the 19th century. Haeckel divided humans into 12 hierarchical species and 36 races, with the “Mediterranese” (specifically, the “Indo-Germanians”) ranked the highest and groups that made up “Primaeval Man” (Indigenous peoples in Africa and Oceania) ranked the lowest. He used physical but also cultural traits, such as language, to both define these “races” and make claims about their evolution (noting which ones were more or less evolved).

T hese ideas, combined with Haeckel’s social Darwinist belief that evolution ruled human civilization and nature, may have helped shape the racist ideologies of some Nazi organizers. Alfred Rosenberg (who was appointed leader of the Nazi movement by Adolf Hitler after he was jailed in 1924 for an attempted coup) reportedly read and was influenced by Haeckel’s ideas. Similarly, his ideas are thought to have helped stimulate the birth of fascism in Italy and France.

The British Eugenics Society produced this propaganda poster in the 1930s—a time when the organization’s membership peaked and included prominent scientists, economists, and other public figures who supported eugenics. Wellcome Library/Wikimedia Commons

O f course, Haeckel is not the only one who used Linnaean teachings for this purpose. There are numerous examples of others (mostly men in Europe and the U.S.) who used these ideas about human variation to promote and advance scientific racism.

L innaeus surely remains an important historical figure, and his taxonomic ideas will likely continue to be taught in schools globally. However, it must be remembered that when his work is praised as a major scientific achievement, his deeply problematic legacy is also celebrated.

W hile it is true, as many scholars argue, that Linnaeus did not promote the idea of distinct human species, his concepts of human classification paved the way for pseudoscientific ideas about human biological diversity—the horrific consequences of which are still felt today.

19.1.1: Taxonomy - Biology

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What others are saying about the Taxonomy

"Awesome breadth and depth and a rigorous methodology." &mdash Deane Zeeman, Library and Archives Canada

"The most complete, almost encyclopedic taxonomy I've encountered covering a subject domain. It shows how a well developed taxonomy can enable learning and guide searchers to unforeseen, yet highly relevant topics." &mdash Linda Farmer, MLS, Information Consultant, Second Knowledge Solutions

"The Taxonomy is straightforward, comprehensive, focused on human services has amazing definitions is easy to understand and can be effectively used anywhere by anyone." &mdash Diane Murdock, City of Calgary Information Centre

"The 211 LA County Taxonomy is to the information and referral field what the Library of Congress catalog system is to libraries, nationally and internationally. It allows all information and referral providers to speak the same language, classify information consistently, and share data locally, statewide, regionally, nationally and internationally. It is the crucial element in creating a national database in the future, that will both help identify gaps in service as well as make it faster and easier to get people connected to vital resources. It is a tool that maximizes access to community resources and actualizes the mission of information and referral." &mdash Mary Hogan, Past President, AIRS Board

"The Taxonomy is both extensive and specific simultaneously. As an organization that hears from thousands of young people each week, we require well-developed and defined terms for children and youth services Canada-wide. The Taxonomy allows us to satisfy both the needs of our professional counsellors, who provide information and give local referrals, as well as the needs of the children, youth and young adults who reach us by phone and online. We also appreciate the ability to suggest updates and make inquiries about the definition of particular terms." &mdash Kristen Buckley CRS, Kids Help Phone

"The 211 LA County Taxonomy is known for its superb, comprehensive health and human services terms, but its government-related terms are equally impressive. After an exhaustive review of all city departments and entities, the city of New Orleans selected the Taxonomy as the foundation for its comprehensive 311 Knowledgebase. The Taxonomy also became the basis of a citywide service catalog and is now the backbone of the new 311 system which uses Taxonomy terms to identify service and information requests. The Taxonomy editor worked closely with us to fill gaps that were identified during the project, and even created new terms as part of the process. The citizens of the City of New Orleans now benefit on multiple levels from the tremendous resource which is the AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy." &mdash Jonathan R. Padgett, 311 Content Manager, City of New Orleans

"When Points of Light wanted to develop our own Taxonomy we found out who the expert was and it was AIRS and Georgia Sales, and together we were able to create a taxonomy for volunteer opportunities and volunteers within the AIRS/211 LA Taxonomy. This was one of the best partnerships I've experienced: Points of Light had the subject expertise and volunteer reviewers and Georgia had the encyclopedic knowledge of how to develop a taxonomy, and the framework of codes that saved us time, energy and effort." &mdash David Styers, formerly with Points of Light Foundation

"Its beauty is that it is always changing/adapting to new concepts and services." &mdash Lael Tryon, Greater Twin Cities United Way 2-1-1, Minneapolis

"Working in a small, specialty I&R, I love that we're able to show when services are intended for specific populations in a user-friendly way using target terms. We pay a minimal fee and no longer spend countless hours developing and updating our own system. The Taxonomy is a huge time saver!" &mdash Katie Conlon, CRS, Iowa COMPASS, Center for Disabilities & Development

"The AIRS Taxonomy is an integral component of Bowman Systems' ServicePoint (R) software, which is used throughout the state of Michigan to manage and report on homelessness activities. The web-based nature of the system, along with built-in access to the taxonomy, enables many different types of agencies to work together within a single software system. The AIRS Taxonomy gives staff across our entire provider network a "common language" to quickly and accurately identify services required, make timely and appropriate referrals, and record information about services provided. Perhaps most important, it allows us to pull statistics into reports that are relevant to each stakeholder individually, to the provider network, the community as a whole, and to funders." &mdash Barbara Ritter, Michigan Statewide HMIS Project Director

"Using Taxonomy codes has made searching easier and faster. We would be lost without it!" &mdash Betty Hanacek and Marioly Botero, United Way 2-1-1, Atlanta

"I&R is an important link to service provision for both populations of older adults and people with disabilities, and the AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy is a key tool for developing and defining a common language that is understood by aging and disability I&R/A specialists. The aging and disability networks have a variety of program, service and funding crossovers, and therefore many resources in common. All of these resources are more easily accessed using the aging and disability specific terms that are pinpointed by the aging and disability filter available on the taxonomy website. The filter makes finding resources that much quicker, and more streamlined, as I&R/A staff are increasingly called to address the needs of new and growing populations." &mdash The National I&R Support Center, Aging & Disability

"The Taxonomy serves as the underlying structure for our Community Disaster Information System. We have found the Taxonomy to be the most comprehensive categorization of community-based resources for disaster preparedness and response." &mdash Douglas Troy, Professor, Miami University

"A well-structured and rich controlled vocabulary for human services." &mdash Dr Ali Shiri, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta

"The taxonomy would enhance open access to government as navigating through it is very intuitive and straightforward." &mdash Andrew LeFrancq, Ministry of Government Services, Ontario Government

"Like the Dewey Decimal System, the Taxonomy gives information and referral systems around the country a common structure for coding human services in their communities." &mdash Carol Davis, retired, formerly with United Way of Connecticut/2-1-1

"The AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy is particularly helpful because of its flexibility. The six level system permits small and large organizations to index at the level best suited to their needs." &mdash Diane Gatto Barrett, United Way 211/First Call for Help, Cleveland

"As the health and human services field changes, so does the Taxonomy. The fact that the Taxonomy includes 'see also' and 'use references' is invaluable, as they make it easier to find the correct term and explore other options while indexing your database." &mdash Cathleen Dwyer, Consultant

"As we confront process and technological challenges of merging databases, the Taxonomy has given us a common language to talk about services. It was an easy decision for us to adopt the Taxonomy as a cornerstone of how we will provide information about services in Nebraska." &mdash Nancy Shank, University of Nebraska Public Policy Center

"The TAXONOMY is one of a small number of critical standards for bringing the field of I&R out of the shadows. Without a standard, there is no system. And without a system, we will never have the visibility we need to fulfill our mission. I urge you to use it." &mdash Gil Evans, Past President, AIRS Board

"The AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy is one of the best examples of a highly detailed and precise taxonomy designed especially for information and referral (I&R) programs. We commend this taxonomy to I&R programs looking for good models." &mdash United Way of America

"We appreciate the Taxonomy's precise structure and carefully worded and defined individual terms. We can't imagine managing our resource database without the Taxonomy.

We've learned how to customize it to meet our own needs by deciding what level we want to index any given concept. Rather than using all of the nearly 7,000 service terms (not counting the additional 1,300 target terms), we've settled on a manageable core set of about 1,300 terms. And we use a fairly small set of target terms to focus the indexing more precisely when that's needed.

If we can't figure out how to index a concept, we post a note to the AIRS Taxonomy Listserv and invariably get useful advice from other users. If it turns out that no appropriate Taxonomy term exists, one generally gets created and shared with us.

When new updates are released to subscribers, we run a special utility that our software developer created to integrate new and changed terms into the Taxonomy embedded in our resource database.

Best of all, we can focus our attention on keeping our resource data accurate and up-to-date rather than on maintaining the Taxonomy.

Life is good for us with the AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy!" &mdash Dick Manikowski, retired, formerly with the Detroit Public Library - TIP Service

NOTE: Portions of this site and the Taxonomy can be accessed for limited use without an account. Please see the links at the top of this page and the Terms of Use for further information.



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Hank tells us the background story and explains the importance of the science of classifying living things, also known as taxonomy.

Crash Course Biology is now available on DVD!

References for this episode can be found in the Google document here:

Table of Contents
1) Taxonomy 0:00
2) Phylogenetic Tree 1:24
3) Biolography 2:26
4) Analogous/Homoplasic Traits 3:48
5) Homologous Traits 4:03
6) Taxa & Binomial Nomenclature 4:56
7) Domains 5:48
a) Bateria 6:04
b) Archaea 6:44
c) Eukarya / 4 Kingdoms 6:54
-Plantae 7:56
-Protista 8:23
-Fungi 8:56
-Animalia 9:31

taxonomy, classification, classifying, evolution, filing, science, biology, life, organism, relationship, ancestor, ancestry, evolutionary tree, phylogenetic tree, tree of life, biolography, carl von linnaeus, linnaeus, botanist, botanical name, morphology, homologous traits, systema naturae, taxa, groups, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, binomial nomenclature, latin, domain, archaea, eukarya, division, autotrophs, heterotrophs, protist, fungi, animalia, animal, cat, kitty Support CrashCourse on Subbable:

Taxonomy! It's the science of classifying living things! That sounds exciting! Today, we'll basically be learning the Dewey Decimal System of evolution. it's like filing! You must be on the edge of your seat! Okay, shut up. When it comes down to it, this science doesn't just categorize organisms. When you look a little deeper, you realize it's telling the story of all life on Earth. and it's a pretty good story.

Every living thing on this planet is related to every other living thing. If you go far enough back, we all have a common ancestor: an organism that both you and I are descended from, or something that a starfish and a blue whale are both descended from, or even weirder, that an oak tree and a salmon are both descended from. That organism lived! It lived very long ago, but it was here. and I dig that. The trick of taxonomy is basically figuring out where all those branches of the evolutionary tree are, and finding some convenient labels to help us understand all of these remarkable interrelationships. Let's be clear though, taxonomy isn't about describing life in all of its ridiculous detail. It's mostly about helping humans understand it, because it's way too complicated without structure.

Phylogenetic Tree/Tree of Life
(1:24) To get that structure, biologists use the taxonomic system to classify all the organisms on the Earth. It's sometimes called the phylogenetic tree, or the tree of life. And it illustrates the evolutionary relationships between all living species. So there are about 2 million known species. there could be anywhere from 5 million to 100 million species. Scientists really have no freakin' idea. New species keep getting discovered all the time, and the more organisms we have to keep track of, the more complex the phylogenetic tree becomes. So there's not always a consensus about how to classify this stuff. There's a lot of grey area in the natural world. Actually, let me rephrase that: the natural world is one giant grey area. Sometimes it's just hard to know where to put a certain group of organisms and eventually the group gets so big the classification system has to be messed with to make room for it. So the system isn't perfect, but it's good enough that we've been using it for around 250 years.

*Sniff, sniff* What's that? Do you smell a biolo-graphy coming on?

Biolo-graphy: Carl Linnaeus
(2:26) Carl Linnaeus was a Swede, born in 1707, and early in his career as a botanist, he realized that the botanical nomenclature of 18th century Europe was, well, just crap. For instance, in his day, the formal name of a tomato plant was: Solanum caule inermi herbaceo, foliis pinnatis incises, racemis simplicibus. Linnaeus actually said once, "I shudder at the sight of most botanical names given by modern authorities." Not only did the sloppiness bother him, but he saw a whole sugar storm blowing in because new plants were still being discovered in Europe, but that was nothing compared to the crazy stuff that was coming from the New World. Linnaeus saw that pretty soon naming conventions were just going to collapse under all these new things to name. and then what? So Linnaeus famously started off by naming himself. He came from a peasant family and at that time, surnames were just for rich people. So when Carl when to college, they asked him for his surname and he just made one up: Linnaeus, after the linden trees that grew on his family's homestead. Linnaeus got a medical degree and became a professor at Uppsala University, where he devoted himself to the study of nomenclature. He had the students go to places and bring back specimens for him to study and categorize. The method he eventually adopted was based on morphology, or physical form and structure. This wasn't necessarily a new idea.

Analogous/Homoplastic Traits
(3:48) Back then, people grouped organisms by analogous or homoplastic traits, structures that appear similar but actually come from completely independent origins. By this definition, birds would be more closely related to butterflies than to reptiles, because both birds and butterflies can fly.

Homologous Traits
(4:03) But Linnaeus had a good mind for this stuff, and turned out to have a real knack for choosing actual homologous traits for his classification system, traits that stem from a common evolutionary ancestor. Linnaeus, of course, didn't know jack about evolution. Darwin wouldn't come around for another 100+ years. But he intuited that some traits were more important than others. For instance, he was struck by the fact that reproductive apparatus seemed to be a good way of classifying plants. He also caused a bit of a scandal by classifying class Mammalia based on the female abilities to produce milk from their nipples -- because apparently that was pretty racy stuff back then. In his lifetime, Linnaeus catalogued roughly 7,700 plants and 4,400 animals. He published his classifications in a catalogue called Systema Naturae, which by the time he wrote its 12th edition, was 2,300 pages long. In the meantime, Linnaeus actually adopted a personal motto: "God created, Linnaeus organized."

Taxa & Binomial Nomenclature
(4:56) Although taxonomy has come a long way since Linnaeus, we still use a bunch of the conventions that he invented. For instance, we still arrange things into taxa, or groups of organisms, and we still use the same taxa as Linnaeus: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. We also still use Linnaeus's convention of binomial nomenclature, using a unique two-part name for every species: the genus and its species name, in Latin or sort of Latin-ish. This practice actually started back in the Middle Ages, when educated people were expected to know Latin. We know a lot less Latin now, but we know a lot more about evolution, which Linnaeus didn't. And we have technologies like genetic testing to classify relationships between organisms and yet we still use Linnaeus's morphology-based system because genetic evidence generally agrees with classifications that are made based on structure and form.

(5:48) However, because there was a lot of life that Linnaeus had no idea about, we had to stick a new taxa above Linnaeus's kingdom. We call it domain, and it's about as broad as you can get. The domains are Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya.

(6:04) The bacteria and the archaea are prokaryotes, meaning that their genetic material goes commando with no nucleus to enclose it, while the eukarya make up all of the life forms with a nucleus, and include pretty much all of the life that you think of as life, and quite a lot of the life that you don't think about at all. It might seem like, since all macroscopic life only gets one domain, it's kind of silly to give prokaryotes two. And for a long time, we didn't we didn't divide them up into different domains. They hung out together in a single domain, called Monera. But it later became clear that bacteria, which live pretty much everywhere on Earth, including inside of you and deep in the Earth's crust, and archaea, which are even more hardy than bacteria, have distinct evolutionary histories.

(6:44) Archaea being more closely related to eukaryotes (and yes, thus me and you), they have totally different cell membranes, and the enzymes they use to make RNA (their RNA polymerase) is much more like ours.

Eukarya/4 Kingdoms
(6:54) Under the domain Eukarya, which is by far the most interesting and even occasionally adorable domain, we have kingdoms Protista, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia. Now, scientists have settled on these four -- for now. But these are categories that are a human creation, but there are good reasons for that human creation. The unscientific truth is that we looked at life and divided it up based on what we saw. So we were like, well protists are single-celled organisms, so they're very different from the rest of the domain. And plants get their energy from the sun, and fungi look and act very different from plants and animals, and, you know, we already know what animals are so they have to get their own kingdom. And though scientists are sometimes loathe to admit it, that system of just looking and dividing things up actually worked pretty well for us. Not perfectly, but pretty well. But there's a reason why this worked so well. Evolutionarily, there are actual categories. Each of these kingdoms is a huge branch in the tree of life. At each branch, an evolutionary change occurred that was so massively helpful that it spawned a vast diversity of descendants.

(7:56) Plants, or Plantae, are the autotrophs of the domain Eukarya (autotrophs meaning that they can feed themselves through photosynthesis, of course), their cellulose-based cell walls and chloroplasts giving them a distinct difference from all other multicellular life. There are two other sorts of -trophs: there's the heterotrophs, which get their energy by eating other organisms, and the chemotrophs, which are weird and crazy and only show up in bacteria and archaea, and they get their energy from chemicals.

(8:23) Now, the kingdom Protista is weird because it contains both autotrophs and heterotrophs. Some protists can photosynthesize, while others eat living things. Protists are basically a bunch of weird, eukaryotic single-celled organisms that may or may not be evolutionarily related to each other. Scientists are still trying to figure it out. Some are plant-like, like algae some are more animal-like, like amoebas and some are fungus-like, like slime molds. Protists are one of those grey areas I was telling you about, so don't be surprised if by the time you're teaching this to your biology students, there are more than four kingdoms in Eukarya.

(8:56) Fungi! Which are, you know, the funguses. They include mushrooms and smuts and puffballs and truffles and molds and yeasts! And they're pretty cool because they have cell walls like plants, but instead of being made of cellulose, they're made of another carbohydrate called chitin -- which is also what the beak of a giant squid is made of, or the exoskeleton of a beetle. Because fungi are heterotrophs like animals, they have these sort of digestive enzymes that break down their food and get reabsorbed. But they can't move, so they don't require a stomach for digestion. they just grow on top of whatever it is they're digesting, and digest it right where it is! Which is super convenient!

(9:31) And finally, we have kingdom Animalia, which is the lovely kingdom that we find ourselves and 100% of adorable organisms in. Animals are multicellular, always we are heterotrophic, so we spend a lot of time hunting down food because we can't make it ourselves and almost all of us can move, at least during some stage of our life cycle. And most of us develop either two or three germ layers during embryonic development -- wait for it -- unless you're a sponge.

So like I said, we use this taxonomic system to describe the common ancestry and evolutionary history of an organism. Looking at the phylogenetic tree, you can tell that humans are more closely related to mice than we are to fish, and more closely related to fish than we are to fruit flies. So how about we pick an organism and we follow it all the way through the taxa, from kingdom to species, just to see how it works? I know! Let's pick this kitty! Because I know she'd like it, right, cat?

So kitties have cells that have nuclei and membrane-surrounded organelles and they're multicellular and heterotrophic and have three germ layers of cells when they're embryos. so they're in the kingdom Animalia. And they have a spinal cord running down their backs, protected by vertebrae, and discs in between them. And they have a tail (that doesn't have a butthole at the end of it, like a worm, which I'm really glad about!), and that puts her in the phylum Chordata. (Kitty clearly does not like this, so I'm going to put her down now). And the kitty lactates and gives birth to young like a cow, instead of laying eggs like a chicken. And they have fur and three special tiny bones in their ears that only mammals have, so they're in the class Mammalia. So she's more closely related to cow than to chicken. Good to know. And like a bunch of other placental mammals that eat meat, like weasels (the mustelids) and dogs (the canines), kitties are in the order Carnivora. And they're in the cat family, Felidae, whose members have lithe bodies and roundish heads and, except for cheetahs, retractable claws. And they're littler than tigers and panthers, which puts them in the genus Felis. And then at the level of the species, the descriptions get pretty dang detailed, so let's just say that you know what a cat is, so the species name is catus. And look at that! Felis catus! D'aww, kitty, I could have that whole thing cross-stitched onto a pillow for you to sleep on! And you would be cute!

Thank you for watching our taxidermy issue-- nope, I mean taxonomy episode of Crash Course Biology! We hope that you learned something. Thanks to everybody who helped put this episode together! If you have any questions for us, please leave them on Facebook or Twitter or in the comments below, and we will get to them, hopefully, very quickly. I will see you next time!

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Linnaeus was born in the village of Råshult in Småland, Sweden, on 23 May 1707. He was the first child of Nicolaus (Nils) Ingemarsson (who later adopted the family name Linnaeus) and Christina Brodersonia. His siblings were Anna Maria Linnæa, Sofia Juliana Linnæa, Samuel Linnæus (who would eventually succeed their father as rector of Stenbrohult and write a manual on beekeeping), [10] [11] [12] and Emerentia Linnæa. [13] His father taught him Latin as a small child. [14]

One of a long line of peasants and priests, Nils was an amateur botanist, a Lutheran minister, and the curate of the small village of Stenbrohult in Småland. Christina was the daughter of the rector of Stenbrohult, Samuel Brodersonius. [15] : 376

A year after Linnaeus's birth, his grandfather Samuel Brodersonius died, and his father Nils became the rector of Stenbrohult. The family moved into the rectory from the curate's house. [16] [17]

Even in his early years, Linnaeus seemed to have a liking for plants, flowers in particular. Whenever he was upset, he was given a flower, which immediately calmed him. Nils spent much time in his garden and often showed flowers to Linnaeus and told him their names. Soon Linnaeus was given his own patch of earth where he could grow plants. [18]

Carl's father was the first in his ancestry to adopt a permanent surname. Before that, ancestors had used the patronymic naming system of Scandinavian countries: his father was named Ingemarsson after his father Ingemar Bengtsson. When Nils was admitted to the University of Lund, he had to take on a family name. He adopted the Latinate name Linnæus after a giant linden tree (or lime tree), lind in Swedish, that grew on the family homestead. [10] This name was spelled with the æ ligature. When Carl was born, he was named Carl Linnæus, with his father's family name. The son also always spelled it with the æ ligature, both in handwritten documents and in publications. [16] Carl's patronymic would have been Nilsson, as in Carl Nilsson Linnæus. [19]

Early education

Linnaeus's father began teaching him basic Latin, religion, and geography at an early age. [20] When Linnaeus was seven, Nils decided to hire a tutor for him. The parents picked Johan Telander, a son of a local yeoman. Linnaeus did not like him, writing in his autobiography that Telander "was better calculated to extinguish a child's talents than develop them". [21]

Two years after his tutoring had begun, he was sent to the Lower Grammar School at Växjö in 1717. [22] Linnaeus rarely studied, often going to the countryside to look for plants. At some point, his father went to visit him and, after hearing critical assessements by his preceptors, he decided to put the youth as an apprentice to some honest cobbler. [23] He reached the last year of the Lower School when he was fifteen, which was taught by the headmaster, Daniel Lannerus, who was interested in botany. Lannerus noticed Linnaeus's interest in botany and gave him the run of his garden.

He also introduced him to Johan Rothman, the state doctor of Småland and a teacher at Katedralskolan (a gymnasium) in Växjö. Also a botanist, Rothman broadened Linnaeus's interest in botany and helped him develop an interest in medicine. [24] [25] By the age of 17, Linnaeus had become well acquainted with the existing botanical literature. He remarks in his journal that he "read day and night, knowing like the back of my hand, Arvidh Månsson's Rydaholm Book of Herbs, Tillandz's Flora Åboensis, Palmberg's Serta Florea Suecana, Bromelii Chloros Gothica and Rudbeckii Hortus Upsaliensis". [26]

Linnaeus entered the Växjö Katedralskola in 1724, where he studied mainly Greek, Hebrew, theology and mathematics, a curriculum designed for boys preparing for the priesthood. [27] [28] In the last year at the gymnasium, Linnaeus's father visited to ask the professors how his son's studies were progressing to his dismay, most said that the boy would never become a scholar. Rothman believed otherwise, suggesting Linnaeus could have a future in medicine. The doctor offered to have Linnaeus live with his family in Växjö and to teach him physiology and botany. Nils accepted this offer. [29] [30]

Rothman showed Linnaeus that botany was a serious subject. He taught Linnaeus to classify plants according to Tournefort's system. Linnaeus was also taught about the sexual reproduction of plants, according to Sébastien Vaillant. [29] In 1727, Linnaeus, age 21, enrolled in Lund University in Skåne. [31] [32] He was registered as Carolus Linnæus, the Latin form of his full name, which he also used later for his Latin publications. [3]

Professor Kilian Stobæus, natural scientist, physician and historian, offered Linnaeus tutoring and lodging, as well as the use of his library, which included many books about botany. He also gave the student free admission to his lectures. [33] [34] In his spare time, Linnaeus explored the flora of Skåne, together with students sharing the same interests. [35]


In August 1728, Linnaeus decided to attend Uppsala University on the advice of Rothman, who believed it would be a better choice if Linnaeus wanted to study both medicine and botany. Rothman based this recommendation on the two professors who taught at the medical faculty at Uppsala: Olof Rudbeck the Younger and Lars Roberg. Although Rudbeck and Roberg had undoubtedly been good professors, by then they were older and not so interested in teaching. Rudbeck no longer gave public lectures, and had others stand in for him. The botany, zoology, pharmacology and anatomy lectures were not in their best state. [36] In Uppsala, Linnaeus met a new benefactor, Olof Celsius, who was a professor of theology and an amateur botanist. [37] He received Linnaeus into his home and allowed him use of his library, which was one of the richest botanical libraries in Sweden. [38]

In 1729, Linnaeus wrote a thesis, Praeludia Sponsaliorum Plantarum on plant sexual reproduction. This attracted the attention of Rudbeck in May 1730, he selected Linnaeus to give lectures at the University although the young man was only a second-year student. His lectures were popular, and Linnaeus often addressed an audience of 300 people. [39] In June, Linnaeus moved from Celsius's house to Rudbeck's to become the tutor of the three youngest of his 24 children. His friendship with Celsius did not wane and they continued their botanical expeditions. [40] Over that winter, Linnaeus began to doubt Tournefort's system of classification and decided to create one of his own. His plan was to divide the plants by the number of stamens and pistils. He began writing several books, which would later result in, for example, Genera Plantarum and Critica Botanica. He also produced a book on the plants grown in the Uppsala Botanical Garden, Adonis Uplandicus. [41]

Rudbeck's former assistant, Nils Rosén, returned to the University in March 1731 with a degree in medicine. Rosén started giving anatomy lectures and tried to take over Linnaeus's botany lectures, but Rudbeck prevented that. Until December, Rosén gave Linnaeus private tutoring in medicine. In December, Linnaeus had a "disagreement" with Rudbeck's wife and had to move out of his mentor's house his relationship with Rudbeck did not appear to suffer. That Christmas, Linnaeus returned home to Stenbrohult to visit his parents for the first time in about three years. His mother had disapproved of his failing to become a priest, but she was pleased to learn he was teaching at the University. [41] [42]

During a visit with his parents, Linnaeus told them about his plan to travel to Lapland Rudbeck had made the journey in 1695, but the detailed results of his exploration were lost in a fire seven years afterwards. Linnaeus's hope was to find new plants, animals and possibly valuable minerals. He was also curious about the customs of the native Sami people, reindeer-herding nomads who wandered Scandinavia's vast tundras. In April 1732, Linnaeus was awarded a grant from the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala for his journey. [43] [44]

Linnaeus began his expedition from Uppsala on 12 May 1732, just before he turned 25. [45] He travelled on foot and horse, bringing with him his journal, botanical and ornithological manuscripts and sheets of paper for pressing plants. Near Gävle he found great quantities of Campanula serpyllifolia, later known as Linnaea borealis, the twinflower that would become his favourite. [46] He sometimes dismounted on the way to examine a flower or rock [47] and was particularly interested in mosses and lichens, the latter a main part of the diet of the reindeer, a common and economically important animal in Lapland. [48]

Linnaeus travelled clockwise around the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, making major inland incursions from Umeå, Luleå and Tornio. He returned from his six-month-long, over 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) expedition in October, having gathered and observed many plants, birds and rocks. [49] [50] [51] Although Lapland was a region with limited biodiversity, Linnaeus described about 100 previously unidentified plants. These became the basis of his book Flora Lapponica. [52] [53] However, on the expedition to Lapland, Linnaeus used Latin names to describe organisms because he had not yet developed the binomial system. [45]

In Flora Lapponica Linnaeus's ideas about nomenclature and classification were first used in a practical way, making this the first proto-modern Flora. [54] The account covered 534 species, used the Linnaean classification system and included, for the described species, geographical distribution and taxonomic notes. It was Augustin Pyramus de Candolle who attributed Linnaeus with Flora Lapponica as the first example in the botanical genre of Flora writing. Botanical historian E. L. Greene described Flora Lapponica as "the most classic and delightful" of Linnaeus's works. [54]

It was also during this expedition that Linnaeus had a flash of insight regarding the classification of mammals. Upon observing the lower jawbone of a horse at the side of a road he was travelling, Linnaeus remarked: "If I only knew how many teeth and of what kind every animal had, how many teats and where they were placed, I should perhaps be able to work out a perfectly natural system for the arrangement of all quadrupeds." [55]

In 1734, Linnaeus led a small group of students to Dalarna. Funded by the Governor of Dalarna, the expedition was to catalogue known natural resources and discover new ones, but also to gather intelligence on Norwegian mining activities at Røros. [51]


His relations with Nils Rosén having worsened, Linnaeus accepted an invitation from Claes Sohlberg, son of a mining inspector, to spend the Christmas holiday in Falun, where Linnaeus was permitted to visit the mines. [60]

In April 1735, at the suggestion of Sohlberg's father, Linnaeus and Sohlberg set out for the Dutch Republic, where Linnaeus intended to study medicine at the University of Harderwijk [61] while tutoring Sohlberg in exchange for an annual salary. At the time, it was common for Swedes to pursue doctoral degrees in the Netherlands, then a highly revered place to study natural history. [62]

On the way, the pair stopped in Hamburg, where they met the mayor, who proudly showed them a supposed wonder of nature in his possession: the taxidermied remains of a seven-headed hydra. Linnaeus quickly discovered the specimen was a fake cobbled together from the jaws and paws of weasels and the skins of snakes. The provenance of the hydra suggested to Linnaeus that it had been manufactured by monks to represent the Beast of Revelation. Even at the risk of incurring the mayor's wrath, Linnaeus made his observations public, dashing the mayor's dreams of selling the hydra for an enormous sum. Linnaeus and Sohlberg were forced to flee from Hamburg. [63] [64]

Linnaeus began working towards his degree as soon as he reached Harderwijk, a university known for awarding degrees in as little as a week. [65] He submitted a dissertation, written back in Sweden, entitled Dissertatio medica inauguralis in qua exhibetur hypothesis nova de febrium intermittentium causa, [note 3] in which he laid out his hypothesis that malaria arose only in areas with clay-rich soils. [66] Although he failed to identify the true source of disease transmission, (i.e., the Anopheles mosquito), [67] he did correctly predict that Artemisia annua (wormwood) would become a source of antimalarial medications. [66]

Within two weeks he had completed his oral and practical examinations and was awarded a doctoral degree. [63] [65]

That summer Linnaeus reunited with Peter Artedi, a friend from Uppsala with whom he had once made a pact that should either of the two predecease the other, the survivor would finish the decedent's work. Ten weeks later, Artedi drowned in the canals of Amsterdam, leaving behind an unfinished manuscript on the classification of fish. [68] [69]

Publishing of Systema Naturae

One of the first scientists Linnaeus met in the Netherlands was Johan Frederik Gronovius to whom Linnaeus showed one of the several manuscripts he had brought with him from Sweden. The manuscript described a new system for classifying plants. When Gronovius saw it, he was very impressed, and offered to help pay for the printing. With an additional monetary contribution by the Scottish doctor Isaac Lawson, the manuscript was published as Systema Naturae (1735). [70] [71]

Linnaeus became acquainted with one of the most respected physicians and botanists in the Netherlands, Herman Boerhaave, who tried to convince Linnaeus to make a career there. Boerhaave offered him a journey to South Africa and America, but Linnaeus declined, stating he would not stand the heat. Instead, Boerhaave convinced Linnaeus that he should visit the botanist Johannes Burman. After his visit, Burman, impressed with his guest's knowledge, decided Linnaeus should stay with him during the winter. During his stay, Linnaeus helped Burman with his Thesaurus Zeylanicus. Burman also helped Linnaeus with the books on which he was working: Fundamenta Botanica and Bibliotheca Botanica. [72]

George Clifford, Philip Miller, and Johann Jacob Dillenius

In August 1735, during Linnaeus's stay with Burman, he met George Clifford III, a director of the Dutch East India Company and the owner of a rich botanical garden at the estate of Hartekamp in Heemstede. Clifford was very impressed with Linnaeus's ability to classify plants, and invited him to become his physician and superintendent of his garden. Linnaeus had already agreed to stay with Burman over the winter, and could thus not accept immediately. However, Clifford offered to compensate Burman by offering him a copy of Sir Hans Sloane's Natural History of Jamaica, a rare book, if he let Linnaeus stay with him, and Burman accepted. [73] [74] On 24 September 1735, Linnaeus moved to Hartekamp to become personal physician to Clifford, and curator of Clifford's herbarium. He was paid 1,000 florins a year, with free board and lodging. Though the agreement was only for a winter of that year, Linnaeus practically stayed there until 1738. [75] It was here that he wrote a book Hortus Cliffortianus, in the preface of which he described his experience as "the happiest time of my life". (A portion of Hartekamp was declared as public garden in April 1956 by the Heemstede local authority, and was named "Linnaeushof". [76] It eventually became, as it is claimed, the biggest playground in Europe. [77] )

In July 1736, Linnaeus travelled to England, at Clifford's expense. [78] He went to London to visit Sir Hans Sloane, a collector of natural history, and to see his cabinet, [79] as well as to visit the Chelsea Physic Garden and its keeper, Philip Miller. He taught Miller about his new system of subdividing plants, as described in Systema Naturae. Miller was in fact reluctant to use the new binomial nomenclature, preferring the classifications of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort and John Ray at first. Linnaeus, nevertheless, applauded Miller's Gardeners Dictionary, [80] The conservative Scot actually retained in his dictionary a number of pre-Linnaean binomial signifiers discarded by Linnaeus but which have been retained by modern botanists. He only fully changed to the Linnaean system in the edition of The Gardeners Dictionary of 1768. Miller ultimately was impressed, and from then on started to arrange the garden according to Linnaeus's system. [81]

Linnaeus also travelled to Oxford University to visit the botanist Johann Jacob Dillenius. He failed to make Dillenius publicly fully accept his new classification system, though the two men remained in correspondence for many years afterwards. Linnaeus dedicated his Critica botanica to him, as "opus botanicum quo absolutius mundus non-vidit". Linnaeus would later name a genus of tropical tree Dillenia in his honour. He then returned to Hartekamp, bringing with him many specimens of rare plants. [82] The next year, he published Genera Plantarum, in which he described 935 genera of plants, and shortly thereafter he supplemented it with Corollarium Generum Plantarum, with another sixty (sexaginta) genera. [83]

His work at Hartekamp led to another book, Hortus Cliffortianus, a catalogue of the botanical holdings in the herbarium and botanical garden of Hartekamp. He wrote it in nine months (completed in July 1737), but it was not published until 1738. [72] It contains the first use of the name Nepenthes, which Linnaeus used to describe a genus of pitcher plants. [84] [note 4]

Linnaeus stayed with Clifford at Hartekamp until 18 October 1737 (new style), when he left the house to return to Sweden. Illness and the kindness of Dutch friends obliged him to stay some months longer in Holland. In May 1738, he set out for Sweden again. On the way home, he stayed in Paris for about a month, visiting botanists such as Antoine de Jussieu. After his return, Linnaeus never left Sweden again. [85] [86]

When Linnaeus returned to Sweden on 28 June 1738, he went to Falun, where he entered into an engagement to Sara Elisabeth Moræa. Three months later, he moved to Stockholm to find employment as a physician, and thus to make it possible to support a family. [87] [88] Once again, Linnaeus found a patron he became acquainted with Count Carl Gustav Tessin, who helped him get work as a physician at the Admiralty. [89] [90] During this time in Stockholm, Linnaeus helped found the Royal Swedish Academy of Science he became the first Praeses of the academy by drawing of lots. [91]

Because his finances had improved and were now sufficient to support a family, he received permission to marry his fiancée, Sara Elisabeth Moræa. Their wedding was held 26 June 1739. Seventeen months later, Sara gave birth to their first son, Carl. Two years later, a daughter, Elisabeth Christina, was born, and the subsequent year Sara gave birth to Sara Magdalena, who died when 15 days old. Sara and Linnaeus would later have four other children: Lovisa, Sara Christina, Johannes and Sophia. [87] [92]

In May 1741, Linnaeus was appointed Professor of Medicine at Uppsala University, first with responsibility for medicine-related matters. Soon, he changed place with the other Professor of Medicine, Nils Rosén, and thus was responsible for the Botanical Garden (which he would thoroughly reconstruct and expand), botany and natural history, instead. In October that same year, his wife and nine-month-old son followed him to live in Uppsala. [93] : 49–50

Öland and Gotland

Ten days after he was appointed Professor, he undertook an expedition to the island provinces of Öland and Gotland with six students from the university, to look for plants useful in medicine. First, they travelled to Öland and stayed there until 21 June, when they sailed to Visby in Gotland. Linnaeus and the students stayed on Gotland for about a month, and then returned to Uppsala. During this expedition, they found 100 previously unrecorded plants. The observations from the expedition were later published in Öländska och Gothländska Resa, written in Swedish. Like Flora Lapponica, it contained both zoological and botanical observations, as well as observations concerning the culture in Öland and Gotland. [94] [95]

During the summer of 1745, Linnaeus published two more books: Flora Suecica and Fauna Suecica. Flora Suecica was a strictly botanical book, while Fauna Suecica was zoological. [87] [96] Anders Celsius had created the temperature scale named after him in 1742. Celsius's scale was inverted compared to today, the boiling point at 0 °C and freezing point at 100 °C. In 1745, Linnaeus inverted the scale to its present standard. [97]


In the summer of 1746, Linnaeus was once again commissioned by the Government to carry out an expedition, this time to the Swedish province of Västergötland. He set out from Uppsala on 12 June and returned on 11 August. On the expedition his primary companion was Erik Gustaf Lidbeck, a student who had accompanied him on his previous journey. Linnaeus described his findings from the expedition in the book Wästgöta-Resa, published the next year. [94] [98] After he returned from the journey, the Government decided Linnaeus should take on another expedition to the southernmost province Scania. This journey was postponed, as Linnaeus felt too busy. [87]

In 1747, Linnaeus was given the title archiater, or chief physician, by the Swedish king Adolf Frederick—a mark of great respect. [99] The same year he was elected member of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin. [100]


In the spring of 1749, Linnaeus could finally journey to Scania, again commissioned by the Government. With him he brought his student, Olof Söderberg. On the way to Scania, he made his last visit to his brothers and sisters in Stenbrohult since his father had died the previous year. The expedition was similar to the previous journeys in most aspects, but this time he was also ordered to find the best place to grow walnut and Swedish whitebeam trees these trees were used by the military to make rifles. The journey was successful, and Linnaeus's observations were published the next year in Skånska Resa. [101] [102]

Rector of Uppsala University

In 1750, Linnaeus became rector of Uppsala University, starting a period where natural sciences were esteemed. [87] Perhaps the most important contribution he made during his time at Uppsala was to teach many of his students travelled to various places in the world to collect botanical samples. Linnaeus called the best of these students his "apostles". [93] : 56–57 His lectures were normally very popular and were often held in the Botanical Garden. He tried to teach the students to think for themselves and not trust anybody, not even him. Even more popular than the lectures were the botanical excursions made every Saturday during summer, where Linnaeus and his students explored the flora and fauna in the vicinity of Uppsala. [103]

Philosophia Botanica

Linnaeus published Philosophia Botanica in 1751. [104] The book contained a complete survey of the taxonomy system he had been using in his earlier works. It also contained information of how to keep a journal on travels and how to maintain a botanical garden. [105]

Nutrix Noverca

During Linnaeus's time it was normal for upper class women to have wet nurses for their babies. Linnaeus joined an ongoing campaign to end this practice in Sweden and promote breast-feeding by mothers. In 1752 Linnaeus published a thesis along with Frederick Lindberg, a physician student, [106] based on their experiences. [107] In the tradition of the period, this dissertation was essentially an idea of the presiding reviewer (prases) expounded upon by the student. Linnaeus's dissertation was translated into French by J.E. Gilibert in 1770 as La Nourrice marâtre, ou Dissertation sur les suites funestes du nourrisage mercénaire. Linnaeus suggested that children might absorb the personality of their wet nurse through the milk. He admired the child care practices of the Lapps [108] and pointed out how healthy their babies were compared to those of Europeans who employed wet nurses. He compared the behaviour of wild animals and pointed out how none of them denied their newborns their breastmilk. [108] It is thought that his activism played a role in his choice of the term Mammalia for the class of organisms. [109]

Species Plantarum

Linnaeus published Species Plantarum, the work which is now internationally accepted as the starting point of modern botanical nomenclature, in 1753. [110] The first volume was issued on 24 May, the second volume followed on 16 August of the same year. [note 5] [112] The book contained 1,200 pages and was published in two volumes it described over 7,300 species. [93] : 47 [113] The same year the king dubbed him knight of the Order of the Polar Star, the first civilian in Sweden to become a knight in this order. He was then seldom seen not wearing the order's insignia. [114]


Linnaeus felt Uppsala was too noisy and unhealthy, so he bought two farms in 1758: Hammarby and Sävja. The next year, he bought a neighbouring farm, Edeby. He spent the summers with his family at Hammarby initially it only had a small one-storey house, but in 1762 a new, larger main building was added. [102] [115] In Hammarby, Linnaeus made a garden where he could grow plants that could not be grown in the Botanical Garden in Uppsala. He began constructing a museum on a hill behind Hammarby in 1766, where he moved his library and collection of plants. A fire that destroyed about one third of Uppsala and had threatened his residence there necessitated the move. [116]

Since the initial release of Systema Naturae in 1735, the book had been expanded and reprinted several times the tenth edition was released in 1758. This edition established itself as the starting point for zoological nomenclature, the equivalent of Species Plantarum. [93] : 47 [117]

The Swedish King Adolf Frederick granted Linnaeus nobility in 1757, but he was not ennobled until 1761. With his ennoblement, he took the name Carl von Linné (Latinised as Carolus a Linné), 'Linné' being a shortened and gallicised version of 'Linnæus', and the German nobiliary particle 'von' signifying his ennoblement. [3] The noble family's coat of arms prominently features a twinflower, one of Linnaeus's favourite plants it was given the scientific name Linnaea borealis in his honour by Gronovius. The shield in the coat of arms is divided into thirds: red, black and green for the three kingdoms of nature (animal, mineral and vegetable) in Linnaean classification in the centre is an egg "to denote Nature, which is continued and perpetuated in ovo." At the bottom is a phrase in Latin, borrowed from the Aeneid, which reads "Famam extendere factis": we extend our fame by our deeds. [93] : 62 [118] [119] Linnaeus inscribed this personal motto in books that were gifted to him by friends. [120]

After his ennoblement, Linnaeus continued teaching and writing. His reputation had spread over the world, and he corresponded with many different people. For example, Catherine II of Russia sent him seeds from her country. [121] He also corresponded with Giovanni Antonio Scopoli, "the Linnaeus of the Austrian Empire", who was a doctor and a botanist in Idrija, Duchy of Carniola (nowadays Slovenia). [122] Scopoli communicated all of his research, findings, and descriptions (for example of the olm and the dormouse, two little animals hitherto unknown to Linnaeus). Linnaeus greatly respected Scopoli and showed great interest in his work. He named a solanaceous genus, Scopolia, the source of scopolamine, after him, but because of the great distance between them, they never met. [123] [124]

Linnaeus was relieved of his duties in the Royal Swedish Academy of Science in 1763, but continued his work there as usual for more than ten years after. [87] In 1769 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society for his work. [125] He stepped down as rector at Uppsala University in December 1772, mostly due to his declining health. [86] [126]

Linnaeus's last years were troubled by illness. He had suffered from a disease called the Uppsala fever in 1764, but survived thanks to the care of Rosén. He developed sciatica in 1773, and the next year, he had a stroke which partially paralysed him. [127] He suffered a second stroke in 1776, losing the use of his right side and leaving him bereft of his memory while still able to admire his own writings, he could not recognise himself as their author. [128] [129]

In December 1777, he had another stroke which greatly weakened him, and eventually led to his death on 10 January 1778 in Hammarby. [93] : 63 [126] Despite his desire to be buried in Hammarby, he was buried in Uppsala Cathedral on 22 January. [130] [131]

His library and collections were left to his widow Sara and their children. Joseph Banks, an eminent botanist, wished to purchase the collection, but his son Carl refused the offer and instead moved the collection to Uppsala. In 1783 Carl died and Sara inherited the collection, having outlived both her husband and son. She tried to sell it to Banks, but he was no longer interested instead an acquaintance of his agreed to buy the collection. The acquaintance was a 24-year-old medical student, James Edward Smith, who bought the whole collection: 14,000 plants, 3,198 insects, 1,564 shells, about 3,000 letters and 1,600 books. Smith founded the Linnean Society of London five years later. [131] [132]

The von Linné name ended with his son Carl, who never married. [6] His other son, Johannes, had died aged 3. [133] There are over two hundred descendants of Linnaeus through two of his daughters. [6]

During Linnaeus's time as Professor and Rector of Uppsala University, he taught many devoted students, 17 of whom he called "apostles". They were the most promising, most committed students, and all of them made botanical expeditions to various places in the world, often with his help. The amount of this help varied sometimes he used his influence as Rector to grant his apostles a scholarship or a place on an expedition. [134] To most of the apostles he gave instructions of what to look for on their journeys. Abroad, the apostles collected and organised new plants, animals and minerals according to Linnaeus's system. Most of them also gave some of their collection to Linnaeus when their journey was finished. [135] Thanks to these students, the Linnaean system of taxonomy spread through the world without Linnaeus ever having to travel outside Sweden after his return from Holland. [136] The British botanist William T. Stearn notes, without Linnaeus's new system, it would not have been possible for the apostles to collect and organise so many new specimens. [137] Many of the apostles died during their expeditions.

Early expeditions

Christopher Tärnström, the first apostle and a 43-year-old pastor with a wife and children, made his journey in 1746. He boarded a Swedish East India Company ship headed for China. Tärnström never reached his destination, dying of a tropical fever on Côn Sơn Island the same year. Tärnström's widow blamed Linnaeus for making her children fatherless, causing Linnaeus to prefer sending out younger, unmarried students after Tärnström. [138] Six other apostles later died on their expeditions, including Pehr Forsskål and Pehr Löfling. [137]

Two years after Tärnström's expedition, Finnish-born Pehr Kalm set out as the second apostle to North America. There he spent two-and-a-half years studying the flora and fauna of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Canada. Linnaeus was overjoyed when Kalm returned, bringing back with him many pressed flowers and seeds. At least 90 of the 700 North American species described in Species Plantarum had been brought back by Kalm. [139]

Cook expeditions and Japan

Daniel Solander was living in Linnaeus's house during his time as a student in Uppsala. Linnaeus was very fond of him, promising Solander his eldest daughter's hand in marriage. On Linnaeus's recommendation, Solander travelled to England in 1760, where he met the English botanist Joseph Banks. With Banks, Solander joined James Cook on his expedition to Oceania on the Endeavour in 1768–71. [140] [141] Solander was not the only apostle to journey with James Cook Anders Sparrman followed on the Resolution in 1772–75 bound for, among other places, Oceania and South America. Sparrman made many other expeditions, one of them to South Africa. [142]

Perhaps the most famous and successful apostle was Carl Peter Thunberg, who embarked on a nine-year expedition in 1770. He stayed in South Africa for three years, then travelled to Japan. All foreigners in Japan were forced to stay on the island of Dejima outside Nagasaki, so it was thus hard for Thunberg to study the flora. He did, however, manage to persuade some of the translators to bring him different plants, and he also found plants in the gardens of Dejima. He returned to Sweden in 1779, one year after Linnaeus's death. [143]

Systema Naturae

The first edition of Systema Naturae was printed in the Netherlands in 1735. It was a twelve-page work. [144] By the time it reached its 10th edition in 1758, it classified 4,400 species of animals and 7,700 species of plants. People from all over the world sent their specimens to Linnaeus to be included. By the time he started work on the 12th edition, Linnaeus needed a new invention—the index card—to track classifications. [145]

In Systema Naturae, the unwieldy names mostly used at the time, such as "Physalis annua ramosissima, ramis angulosis glabris, foliis dentato-serratis", were supplemented with concise and now familiar "binomials", composed of the generic name, followed by a specific epithet—in the case given, Physalis angulata. These binomials could serve as a label to refer to the species. Higher taxa were constructed and arranged in a simple and orderly manner. Although the system, now known as binomial nomenclature, was partially developed by the Bauhin brothers (see Gaspard Bauhin and Johann Bauhin) almost 200 years earlier, [146] Linnaeus was the first to use it consistently throughout the work, including in monospecific genera, and may be said to have popularised it within the scientific community.

After the decline in Linnaeus's health in the early 1770s, publication of editions of Systema Naturae went in two different directions. Another Swedish scientist, Johan Andreas Murray issued the Regnum Vegetabile section separately in 1774 as the Systema Vegetabilium, rather confusingly labelled the 13th edition. [147] Meanwhile, a 13th edition of the entire Systema appeared in parts between 1788 and 1793. It was through the Systema Vegetabilium that Linnaeus's work became widely known in England, following its translation from the Latin by the Lichfield Botanical Society as A System of Vegetables (1783–1785). [148]

Orbis eruditi judicium de Caroli Linnaei MD scriptis

('Opinion of the learned world on the writings of Carl Linnaeus, Doctor') Published in 1740, this small octavo-sized pamphlet was presented to the State Library of New South Wales by the Linnean Society of NSW in 2018. This is considered among the rarest of all the writings of Linnaeus, and crucial to his career, securing him his appointment to a professorship of medicine at Uppsala University. From this position he laid the groundwork for his radical new theory of classifying and naming organisms for which he was considered the founder of modern taxonomy.

Species Plantarum

Species Plantarum (or, more fully, Species Plantarum, exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad genera relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum systema sexuale digestas) was first published in 1753, as a two-volume work. Its prime importance is perhaps that it is the primary starting point of plant nomenclature as it exists today. [110]

Genera Plantarum

Genera plantarum: eorumque characteres naturales secundum numerum, figuram, situm, et proportionem omnium fructificationis partium was first published in 1737, delineating plant genera. Around 10 editions were published, not all of them by Linnaeus himself the most important is the 1754 fifth edition. [149] In it Linnaeus divided the plant Kingdom into 24 classes. One, Cryptogamia, included all the plants with concealed reproductive parts (algae, fungi, mosses and liverworts and ferns). [150]

Philosophia Botanica

Philosophia Botanica (1751) [104] was a summary of Linnaeus's thinking on plant classification and nomenclature, and an elaboration of the work he had previously published in Fundamenta Botanica (1736) and Critica Botanica (1737). Other publications forming part of his plan to reform the foundations of botany include his Classes Plantarum and Bibliotheca Botanica: all were printed in Holland (as were Genera Plantarum (1737) and Systema Naturae (1735)), the Philosophia being simultaneously released in Stockholm. [151]

At the end of his lifetime the Linnean collection in Uppsala was considered one of the finest collections of natural history objects in Sweden. Next to his own collection he had also built up a museum for the university of Uppsala, which was supplied by material donated by Carl Gyllenborg (in 1744–1745), crown-prince Adolf Fredrik (in 1745), Erik Petreus (in 1746), Claes Grill (in 1746), Magnus Lagerström (in 1748 and 1750) and Jonas Alströmer (in 1749). The relation between the museum and the private collection was not formalised and the steady flow of material from Linnean pupils were incorporated to the private collection rather than to the museum. [152] Linnaeus felt his work was reflecting the harmony of nature and he said in 1754 "the earth is then nothing else but a museum of the all-wise creator's masterpieces, divided into three chambers". He had turned his own estate into a microcosm of that 'world museum'. [153]

In April 1766 parts of the town were destroyed by a fire and the Linnean private collection was subsequently moved to a barn outside the town, and shortly afterwards to a single-room stone building close to his country house at Hammarby near Uppsala. This resulted in a physical separation between the two collections the museum collection remained in the botanical garden of the university. Some material which needed special care (alcohol specimens) or ample storage space was moved from the private collection to the museum.

In Hammarby the Linnean private collections suffered seriously from damp and the depredations by mice and insects. Carl von Linné's son (Carl Linnaeus) inherited the collections in 1778 and retained them until his own death in 1783. Shortly after Carl von Linné's death his son confirmed that mice had caused "horrible damage" to the plants and that also moths and mould had caused considerable damage. [154] He tried to rescue them from the neglect they had suffered during his father's later years, and also added further specimens. This last activity however reduced rather than augmented the scientific value of the original material.

In 1784 the young medical student James Edward Smith purchased the entire specimen collection, library, manuscripts, and correspondence of Carl Linnaeus from his widow and daughter and transferred the collections to London. [155] [15] : 342–357 Not all material in Linné's private collection was transported to England. Thirty-three fish specimens preserved in alcohol were not sent and were later lost. [156]

In London Smith tended to neglect the zoological parts of the collection he added some specimens and also gave some specimens away. [157] Over the following centuries the Linnean collection in London suffered enormously at the hands of scientists who studied the collection, and in the process disturbed the original arrangement and labels, added specimens that did not belong to the original series and withdrew precious original type material. [154]

Much material which had been intensively studied by Linné in his scientific career belonged to the collection of Queen Lovisa Ulrika (1720–1782) (in the Linnean publications referred to as "Museum Ludovicae Ulricae" or "M. L. U."). This collection was donated by her grandson King Gustav IV Adolf (1778–1837) to the museum in Uppsala in 1804. Another important collection in this respect was that of her husband King Adolf Fredrik (1710–1771) (in the Linnean sources known as "Museum Adolphi Friderici" or "Mus. Ad. Fr."), the wet parts (alcohol collection) of which were later donated to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and is today housed in the Swedish Museum of Natural History at Stockholm. The dry material was transferred to Uppsala. [152]

The establishment of universally accepted conventions for the naming of organisms was Linnaeus's main contribution to taxonomy—his work marks the starting point of consistent use of binomial nomenclature. [158] During the 18th century expansion of natural history knowledge, Linnaeus also developed what became known as the Linnaean taxonomy the system of scientific classification now widely used in the biological sciences. A previous zoologist Rumphius (1627–1702) had more or less approximated the Linnaean system and his material contributed to the later development of the binomial scientific classification by Linnaeus. [159]

The Linnaean system classified nature within a nested hierarchy, starting with three kingdoms. Kingdoms were divided into classes and they, in turn, into orders, and thence into genera (singular: genus), which were divided into species (singular: species). [160] Below the rank of species he sometimes recognised taxa of a lower (unnamed) rank these have since acquired standardised names such as variety in botany and subspecies in zoology. Modern taxonomy includes a rank of family between order and genus and a rank of phylum between kingdom and class that were not present in Linnaeus's original system. [161]

Linnaeus's groupings were based upon shared physical characteristics, and not simply upon differences. [161] Of his higher groupings, only those for animals are still in use, and the groupings themselves have been significantly changed since their conception, as have the principles behind them. Nevertheless, Linnaeus is credited with establishing the idea of a hierarchical structure of classification which is based upon observable characteristics and intended to reflect natural relationships. [158] [162] While the underlying details concerning what are considered to be scientifically valid "observable characteristics" have changed with expanding knowledge (for example, DNA sequencing, unavailable in Linnaeus's time, has proven to be a tool of considerable utility for classifying living organisms and establishing their evolutionary relationships), the fundamental principle remains sound.

Human taxonomy

Linnaeus's system of taxonomy was especially noted as the first to include humans (Homo) taxonomically grouped with apes (Simia), under the header of Anthropomorpha. German biologist Ernst Haeckel speaking in 1907 noted this as the "most important sign of Linnaeus's genius". [163]

Linnaeus classified humans among the primates beginning with the first edition of Systema Naturae. [164] During his time at Hartekamp, he had the opportunity to examine several monkeys and noted similarities between them and man. [93] : 173–174 He pointed out both species basically have the same anatomy except for speech, he found no other differences. [165] [note 6] Thus he placed man and monkeys under the same category, Anthropomorpha, meaning "manlike." [166] This classification received criticism from other biologists such as Johan Gottschalk Wallerius, Jacob Theodor Klein and Johann Georg Gmelin on the ground that it is illogical to describe man as human-like. [167] In a letter to Gmelin from 1747, Linnaeus replied: [168] [note 7]

It does not please [you] that I've placed Man among the Anthropomorpha, perhaps because of the term 'with human form', [note 8] but man learns to know himself. Let's not quibble over words. It will be the same to me whatever name we apply. But I seek from you and from the whole world a generic difference between man and simian that [follows] from the principles of Natural History. [note 9] I absolutely know of none. If only someone might tell me a single one! If I would have called man a simian or vice versa, I would have brought together all the theologians against me. Perhaps I ought to have by virtue of the law of the discipline.

The theological concerns were twofold: first, putting man at the same level as monkeys or apes would lower the spiritually higher position that man was assumed to have in the great chain of being, and second, because the Bible says man was created in the image of God [169] (theomorphism), if monkeys/apes and humans were not distinctly and separately designed, that would mean monkeys and apes were created in the image of God as well. This was something many could not accept. [170] The conflict between world views that was caused by asserting man was a type of animal would simmer for a century until the much greater, and still ongoing, creation–evolution controversy began in earnest with the publication of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1859.

After such criticism, Linnaeus felt he needed to explain himself more clearly. The 10th edition of Systema Naturae introduced new terms, including Mammalia and Primates, the latter of which would replace Anthropomorpha [171] as well as giving humans the full binomial Homo sapiens. [172] The new classification received less criticism, but many natural historians still believed he had demoted humans from their former place of ruling over nature and not being a part of it. Linnaeus believed that man biologically belongs to the animal kingdom and had to be included in it. [173] In his book Dieta Naturalis, he said, "One should not vent one's wrath on animals, Theology decree that man has a soul and that the animals are mere 'aoutomata mechanica,' but I believe they would be better advised that animals have a soul and that the difference is of nobility." [174]

Linnaeus added a second species to the genus Homo in Systema Naturae based on a figure and description by Jacobus Bontius from a 1658 publication: Homo troglodytes ("caveman") [176] [177] and published a third in 1771: Homo lar. [178] Swedish historian Gunnar Broberg states that the new human species Linnaeus described were actually simians or native people clad in skins to frighten colonial settlers, whose appearance had been exaggerated in accounts to Linnaeus. [179]

In early editions of Systema Naturae, many well-known legendary creatures were included such as the phoenix, dragon, manticore, and satyrus, [180] [note 10] which Linnaeus collected into the catch-all category Paradoxa. Broberg thought Linnaeus was trying to offer a natural explanation and demystify the world of superstition. [181] Linnaeus tried to debunk some of these creatures, as he had with the hydra regarding the purported remains of dragons, Linnaeus wrote that they were either derived from lizards or rays. [182] For Homo troglodytes he asked the Swedish East India Company to search for one, but they did not find any signs of its existence. [183] Homo lar has since been reclassified as Hylobates lar, the lar gibbon. [184]

In the first edition of Systema Naturae, Linnaeus subdivided the human species into four varieties based on continent and [ dubious – discuss ] skin colour: "Europæus albesc[ens]" (whitish European), "Americanus rubesc[ens]" (redish American), "Asiaticus fuscus" (tawny Asian) and "Africanus nigr[iculus]" (blackish African). [185] [186] In the tenth edition of Systema Naturae he further detailed phenotypical characteristics for each variety, based on the concept of the four temperaments from classical antiquity, [187] [ dubious – discuss ] and changed the description of Asians' skin tone to "luridus" (yellow). [188] Additionally, Linnaeus created a wastebasket taxon "monstrosus" for "wild and monstrous humans, unknown groups, and more or less abnormal people". [189]

In 1959, W. T. Stearn designated Linnaeus to be the lectotype of H. sapiens. [190] [191] [192]

Linnaeus's applied science was inspired not only by the instrumental utilitarianism general to the early Enlightenment, but also by his adherence to the older economic doctrine of Cameralism. [193] Additionally, Linnaeus was a state interventionist. He supported tariffs, levies, export bounties, quotas, embargoes, navigation acts, subsidised investment capital, ceilings on wages, cash grants, state-licensed producer monopolies, and cartels. [194]

Anniversaries of Linnaeus's birth, especially in centennial years, have been marked by major celebrations. [195] Linnaeus has appeared on numerous Swedish postage stamps and banknotes. [195] There are numerous statues of Linnaeus in countries around the world. The Linnean Society of London has awarded the Linnean Medal for excellence in botany or zoology since 1888. Following approval by the Riksdag of Sweden, Växjö University and Kalmar College merged on 1 January 2010 to become Linnaeus University. [196] Other things named after Linnaeus include the twinflower genus Linnaea, the crater Linné on the Earth's moon, a street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the cobalt sulfide mineral Linnaeite.

Linnaeus . was the most eminent naturalist of his time, a wide observer, a close thinker but the atmosphere in which he lived and moved and had his being was saturated with biblical theology, and this permeated all his thinking. . Toward the end of his life he timidly advanced the hypothesis that all the species of one genus constituted at the creation one species and from the last edition of his Systema Naturæ he quietly left out the strongly orthodox statement of the fixity of each species, which he had insisted upon in his earlier works. . warnings came speedily both from the Catholic and Protestant sides. [197]

The mathematical PageRank algorithm, applied to 24 multilingual Wikipedia editions in 2014, published in PLOS ONE in 2015, placed Carl Linnaeus at the top historical figure, above Jesus, Aristotle, Napoleon, and Adolf Hitler (in that order). [198] [199]

In the 21st century, Linnæus' taxonomy of human "races" has been problematised and discussed. Some critics [ who? ] claim that Linnæus was one of the forebears of the modern pseudoscientific notion of scientific racism, while others [ who? ] hold the view that while his classification was stereotyped, it did not imply that certain human "races" were superior to others. [ citation needed ]

  • Linnaeus, Carolus (1735). Systema naturae, sive regna tria naturae systematice proposita per classes, ordines, genera, & species. Leiden: Haak. pp. 1–12.
  • Linnaeus, Carolus Hendrik Engel Maria Sara Johanna Engel-Ledeboer (1964) [1735]. Systema Naturae (facsimile of the 1st ed.). Nieuwkoop, Netherlands: B. de Graaf. OCLC460298195.
  • Linnaeus, Carl (1755) [1751]. Philosophia botanica: in qua explicantur fundamenta botanica cum definitionibus partium, exemplis terminorum, observationibus rariorum, adiectis figuris aeneis. originally published simultaneously by R. Kiesewetter (Stockholm) and Z. Chatelain (Amsterdam). Vienna: Joannis Thomae Trattner . Retrieved 13 December 2015 .
  • Linnaeus, Carl (1753). Species Plantarum: exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad genera relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum systema sexuale digestas. Stockholm: Impensis Laurentii Salvii. see also Species Plantarum
  • Linnaeus, Carolus (1758). Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. 1 (10th ed.). Stockholm: Laurentius Salvius. pp. [1–4], 1–824.
  • Linné, Carl von (1774). Murray, Johann Andreas (ed.). Systema vegetabilium (13th edition of Systema Naturae) (2 vols.) . Göttingen: Typis et impensis Jo. Christ. Dieterich . Retrieved 24 February 2015 .
    • Linné, Carl von (1785) [1774]. Systema vegetabilium (13th edition of Systema Naturae) [A System of Vegetables 2 vols. 1783–1785]. Lichfield: Lichfield Botanical Society . Retrieved 24 February 2015 .


    1. ^ ab Carl Linnaeus was born in 1707 on 13 May (Swedish calendar) or 23 May according to the Gregorian calendar. According to the Julian calendar he was born on 12 May. (Blunt 2004, p. 12)
    2. ^ICZN Chapter 16, Article – "For a nominal species or subspecies established before 2000, any evidence, published or unpublished, may be taken into account to determine what specimens constitute the type series." and Article 73.1.2 – "If the nominal species-group taxon is based on a single specimen, either so stated or implied in the original publication, that specimen is the holotype fixed by monotypy (see Recommendation 73F). If the taxon was established before 2000 evidence derived from outside the work itself may be taken into account [Art.] to help identify the specimen."
    3. ^ That is, Inaugural thesis in medicine, in which a new hypothesis on the cause of intermittent fevers is presented
    4. ^ "If this is not Helen's Nepenthes, it certainly will be for all botanists. What botanist would not be filled with admiration if, after a long journey, he should find this wonderful plant. In his astonishment past ills would be forgotten when beholding this admirable work of the Creator!" (translated from Latin by Harry Veitch)
    5. ^ The date of issue of both volumes was later, for practical purposes, arbitrarily set on 1 May, see Stearn, W. T. (1957), The preparation of the Species Plantarum and the introduction of binomial nomenclature, in: Species Plantarum, A Facsimile of the first edition, London, Ray Society: 72 and ICN (Melbourne Code) [111] Art. 13.4 Note 1: "The two volumes of Linnaeus' Species plantarum, ed. 1 (1753), which appeared in May and August, 1753, respectively, are treated as having been published simultaneously on 1 May 1753."
    6. ^Frängsmyr et al. (1983), p. 167, quotes Linnaeus explaining the real difference would necessarily be absent from his classification system, as it was not a morphological characteristic: "I well know what a splendidly great difference there is [between] a man and a bestia [literally, "beast" that is, a non-human animal] when I look at them from a point of view of morality. Man is the animal which the Creator has seen fit to honor with such a magnificent mind and has condescended to adopt as his favorite and for which he has prepared a nobler life". See also in which Linnaeus cites the significant capacity to reason as the distinguishing characteristic of humans.
    7. ^ Discussion of translation was originally made in this thread on in 2005. For an alternative translation, see Gribbin & Gribbin (2008), p. 56, or Slotkin (1965), p. 180.
    8. ^ "antropomorphon" [sic]
    9. ^ Others who followed were more inclined to give humans a special place in classification Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in the first edition of his Manual of Natural History (1779), proposed that the primates be divided into the Quadrumana (four-handed, i.e. apes and monkeys) and Bimana (two-handed, i.e. humans). This distinction was taken up by other naturalists, most notably Georges Cuvier. Some elevated the distinction to the level of order. However, the many affinities between humans and other primates—and especially the great apes—made it clear that the distinction made no scientific sense. Charles Darwin wrote, in The Descent of Man in 1871:

    The greater number of naturalists who have taken into consideration the whole structure of man, including his mental faculties, have followed Blumenbach and Cuvier, and have placed man in a separate Order, under the title of the Bimana, and therefore on an equality with the orders of the Quadrumana, Carnivora, etc. Recently many of our best naturalists have recurred to the view first propounded by Linnaeus, so remarkable for his sagacity, and have placed man in the same Order with the Quadrumana, under the title of the Primates. The justice of this conclusion will be admitted: for in the first place, we must bear in mind the comparative insignificance for classification of the great development of the brain in man, and that the strongly marked differences between the skulls of man and the Quadrumana (lately insisted upon by Bischoff, Aeby, and others) apparently follow from their differently developed brains. In the second place, we must remember that nearly all the other and more important differences between man and the Quadrumana are manifestly adaptive in their nature, and relate chiefly to the erect position of man such as the structure of his hand, foot, and pelvis, the curvature of his spine, and the position of his head.

    Kingdom Protista - Protists are a very diverse group

    Protista are eukaryotes that do not fit into the fungi, plants, or animals kingdoms. Some protists have cell walls, while others do not. Most are unicellular, but some are multicellular. Some have cell specialization, but most do not. Some are autotrophic and others are heterotrophic.

    Protists have different methods of moving around as well. As you watch the youtubes below (all of which are short), look for the different ways protists move. Do they use a flagella (a whip like tail), cilia (short hairs), pseudophodia (extensions of their cytoplasm? One type of protist, sporozoans (named that because they form spores) , is not able to move around at all.

    Examples of protists include amoebas, diatoms, algae, slime molds, water molds, sporozoans, giant kelp, Euglena, and paramecium.

    19.1.1: Taxonomy - Biology

    Taxonomy (which literally means “arrangement law”) is the science of classifying organisms to construct internationally shared classification systems with each organism placed into more and more inclusive groupings. Think about how a grocery store is organized. One large space is divided into departments, such as produce, dairy, and meats. Then each department further divides into aisles, then each aisle into categories and brands, and then finally a single product. This organization from larger to smaller, more specific categories is called a hierarchical system.

    In the eighteenth century, a scientist named Carl Linnaeus first proposed organizing the known species of organisms into a hierarchical taxonomy. In this system, species that are most similar to each other are put together within a grouping known as a genus. Furthermore, similar genera (the plural of genus) are put together within a family. This grouping continues until all organisms are collected together into groups at the highest level. The current taxonomic system now has eight levels in its hierarchy, from lowest to highest, they are: species, genus, family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, domain. Thus species are grouped within genera, genera are grouped within families, families are grouped within orders, and so on (Figure 1).

    Figure 1. This diagram shows the levels of taxonomic hierarchy for a dog, from the broadest category—domain—to the most specific—species. Click for a larger image.

    The kingdom Animalia stems from the Eukarya domain. For the common dog, the classification levels would be as shown in Figure 1. Therefore, the full name of an organism technically has eight terms. For the dog, it is: Eukarya, Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, Carnivora, Canidae, Canis, and lupus. Notice that each name is capitalized except for species, and the genus and species names are italicized. Scientists generally refer to an organism only by its genus and species, which is its two-word scientific name, in what is called binomial nomenclature. Each species has a unique binomial nomenclature to allow for proper identification.

    Therefore, the scientific name of the dog is Canis lupus. It is important that the correct formatting (capitalization and italics) is used when calling an organism by its specific binomial.

    The name at each level is also called a taxon. In other words, dogs are in order Carnivora. Carnivora is the name of the taxon at the order level Canidae is the taxon at the family level, and so forth. Organisms also have a common name that people typically use, in this case, dog. Note that the dog is additionally a subspecies: the “familiaris” in Canis lupus familiaris. Subspecies are members of the same species that are capable of mating and reproducing viable offspring, but they are considered separate subspecies due to geographic or behavioral isolation or other factors.

    A Few Bad Scientists Are Threatening to Topple Taxonomy

    Imagine, if you will, getting bit by an African spitting cobra. These reptiles are bad news for several reasons: First, they spit, shooting a potent cocktail of nerve toxins directly into their victims’ eyes. But they also chomp down, using their fangs to deliver a nasty bite that can lead to respiratory failure, paralysis, and occasionally even death.

    Before you go rushing to the hospital in search of antivenin, you’re going to want to look up exactly what kind of snake you’re dealing with. But the results are confusing. According to the official record of species names, governed by the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the snake belongs to the genus Spracklandus. What you don’t know is that almost no taxonomists use that name. Instead, most researchers use the unofficial name that pops up in Wikipedia and most scientific journal articles: Afronaja.

    This might sound like semantics. But for you, it could mean the difference between life and death. “If you walk in [to the hospital] and say the snake that bit you is called Spracklandus, you might not get the right antivenin,” says Scott Thomson, a herpetologist and taxonomist at Brazil’s Museum of Zoology at the University of São Paulo. After all, “the doctor is not a herpetologist … he’s a medical person trying to save your life.”

    In fact, Spracklandus is the center of a heated debate within the world of taxonomy—one that could help determine the future of an entire scientific field. And Raymond Hoser, the Australian researcher who gave Spracklandus its official name, is one of the forefront figures in that debate.

    By the numbers, Hoser is a taxonomy maven. Between 2000 and 2012 alone, Hoser named three-quarters of all new genera and subgenera of snakes overall, he’s named over 800 taxa, including dozens of snakes and lizards. But prominent taxonomists and other herpetologists—including several interviewed for this piece—say that those numbers are misleading.

    According to them, Hoser isn’t a prolific scientist at all. What he’s really mastered is a very specific kind of scientific "crime": taxonomic vandalism.

    To study life on Earth, you need a system. Ours is Linnaean taxonomy, the model started by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in 1735. Linnaeus’s two-part species names, often Latin-based, consist of both a genus name and a species name, i.e. Homo sapiens. Like a library’s Dewey Decimal system for books, this biological classification system has allowed scientists around the world to study organisms without confusion or overlap for nearly 300 years.

    But, like any library, taxonomy is only as good as its librarians—and now a few rogue taxonomists are threatening to expose the flaws within the system. Taxonomic vandals, as they’re referred to within the field, are those who name scores of new taxa without presenting sufficient evidence for their finds. Like plagiarists trying to pass off others' work as their own, these glory-seeking scientists use others’ original research in order to justify their so-called “discoveries.”

    “It’s unethical name creation based on other people’s work,” says Mark Scherz, a herpetologist who recently named a new species of fish-scaled gecko. “It’s that lack of ethical sensibility that creates that problem.”

    The goal of taxonomic vandalism is often self-aggrandizement. Even in such an unglamorous field, there is prestige and reward—and with them, the temptation to misbehave. “If you name a new species, there’s some notoriety to it,” Thomson says. “You get these people that decide that they just want to name everything, so they can go down in history as having named hundreds and hundreds of species.”

    Taxonomic vandalism isn’t a new problem. “Decisions about how to partition life are as much a concern of politics and ethics as of biology,” two Australian biologists wrote in a June editorial in the journal Nature on how taxonomy’s lack of oversight threatens conservationThey argued that the field needs a new system, by which the rules that govern species names are legally enforceable: “We contend that the scientific community’s failure to govern taxonomy … damages the credibility of science and is expensive to society."

    But the problem may be getting worse, thanks to the advent of online publishing and loopholes in the species naming code. With vandals at large, some researchers are less inclined to publish or present their work publicly for fear of being scooped, taxonomists told me. “Now there’s a hesitation to present our data publically, and that’s how scientists communicate,” Thomson says. “The problem that causes is that you don’t know who is working on what, and then the scientists start stepping on each other’s toes.” spoke with some of these alleged vandals, and the scientists trying to stop them and save this scientific system.

    In 2012, Hoser dubbed this species Oopholis adelynhoserae. According to other taxonomists, it is actually the New Guinea crocodile, Crocodylus novaeguineae. (Wikimedia Commons)

    If you’re a scientist who wants to name a newly discovered form of life, your first step is to gather two to three lines of evidence—from DNA and morphology, for example—that prove that you’re dealing with something new to science. Then you have to obtain a holotype, or an individual of the species that will serve as an identifier for future researchers. Next you’ll write up your paper, in which you describe your discovery and name it according to taxonomic naming conventions.

    Finally, you send your paper off to a scientific journal for publication. If you are the first to publish, the name you’ve chosen is cemented into the taxonomic record. But that last step—publication—isn’t easy. Or at least, it isn’t supposed to be. In theory, the evidence you present must adhere to the high scientific and ethical benchmark of peer-review. Publication can take months, or even years.

    However, there’s a loophole. The rules for naming a new animal taxon are governed by the ICZN, while the International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT) governs plants. And while the ICZN requires that names be published, as defined by the commission’s official Code, “publishing” doesn’t actually require peer-review.

    That definition leaves room for what few would call science: self-publishing. “You can print something in your basement and publish it and everyone in the world that follows the Code is bound to accept whatever it is you published, regardless of how you did so,” Doug Yanega, a Commissioner at the ICZN, told me. “No other field of science, other than taxonomy, is subject to allowing people to self-publish.”

    Thomson agrees. “It’s just become too easy to publish,” he says.

    Why not? When the Code was written, the technologies that allow for self-publishing simply didn’t exist. “The Code isn’t written under the assumption that people would deliberately try to deceive others,” Yanega says. But then came the advance of desktop computing and printing, and with it, the potential for deception.

    Moreover, the ICZN has no actual legal recourse against those who generate names using illegitimate or unethical science. That’s because the Code, which was last updated in 1999, was written to maintain academic freedom, Yanega says. As the Code reads: “nomenclatural rules are tools that are designed to provide the maximum stability compatible with taxonomic freedom.”

    Vandals have zeroed in on the self-publishing loophole with great success. Yanega pointed to Trevor Hawkeswood, an Australia-based entomologist accused by some taxonomists of churning out species names that lack scientific merit.  Hawkeswood publishes work in his own journal, Calodema, which he started in 2006 as editor and main contributor. 

    “He has his own journal with himself as the editor, publisher, and chief author,” Yanega says. “This is supposed to be science, but it’s a pile of publications that have no scientific merit.” (In response to questions about the legitimacy of his journal, Hawkeswood delivered a string of expletives directed towards his critics, and contended that Calodema has “heaps of merit.”)

    Raymond Hoser also owns his own journal, the Australasian Journal of Herpetology (AJH). AJH has faced similar criticism since it was launched in 2009, despite claims by Hoser that the journal is peer-reviewed. “Although the AJH masquerades as a scientific journal, it is perhaps better described as a printed ‘blog’ because it lacks many of the hallmarks of formal scientific communication, and includes much irrelevant information,” wrote Hinrich Kaiser, a researcher at Victor Valley College in California, and colleagues in the peer-reviewed journal Herpetological Review.

    Publications like these let bad science through, taxonomists say. According to them, vandals churn out names of so-called “new species” in their journals, often when the scientific evidence to support a discovery is lacking. And if the names are properly constructed and accompanied by characteristics that are “purported” to distinguish the species, they become valid under the Code. “As long as you create a name, state intention that the name is new, and provide just the vaguest description of a species, the name is valid,” Scherz says.

    Hoser, for his part, doesn’t see a problem. “People complain that we name too much stuff,” he told me. “But that’s bullsh*t. There’s a lot out there.”

    Like a phylogenetic tree, a cladogram illuminates relationships between groups of animals. (Wikimedia Commons)

    Taxonomic vandalism usually isn't subtle. Oftentimes, vandals will explicitly steal others’ science to support their so-called "discovery," taxonomists told me. "They don’t do any of the research, they don’t own any of the research,” as Thomson puts it. One of the most common lines of evidence they steal is what's known as the phylogenetic tree. 

    Phylogenetic trees, not unlike family trees, reveal how different animal specimens are related to each other based on their genetics specimens that are genetically similar are grouped together. In some cases, those groupings represent species that have yet to be named, which scientists call “candidate species.” Researchers commonly publish phylogenetic trees on the road to discovering a new species, and then use those published trees as evidence for that species’ uniqueness.

    However, gathering enough evidence to make a discovery can take months or even years. Meanwhile, culprits like Hoser swoop in. Once the tree is publically available, vandals use it as evidence to justify a “discovery,” which they quickly publish in their personal journals. “Vandals go through literature and comb through phylogenetic trees, find a group in the phylogenetic tree that could be named, and quickly give it a name,” Scherz said.

    It’s difficult to pinpoint the total number of species named by vandals, but Thomson estimates there are tens of thousands. Hoser readily admits that he has used this approach to name tens—if not hundreds—of taxa. “I managed to name about 100 genera [of snakes] by basically looking at phylogenetic trees,” Hoser said. Among them was the African spitting cobra, Spracklandus.

    Another approach is based on a theory called “allopatric speciation,” or the evolution of new species through geographic isolation. 

    The theory states that when animal populations are physically separated without opportunities to interbreed, they can grow genetically distinct. Over time, the populations can become separate species—meaning, in simplistic terms, that they can’t successfully reproduce with each other. This is a widely-accepted theory, but not proof in itself. Without DNA samples and a detailed examination of several individuals from each population, it’s not so much a discovery as it is a clue.

    Taxonomic vandals have been known to take full advantage of this theory to make “discoveries,” says Kaiser. To find and name new species, they will search for geographic barriers that cut through the range of an existing species, such as rivers or mountains. If the species populations look different on either side of the barrier—on one side they’re red and on the other side they’re blue, for example—vandals will automatically declare them two separate species.

    “Taxonomic vandals are saying that these are two separate…[species]…but they really have no scientific underpinning of that statement,” Kaiser said of this approach. Hoser, Kaiser writes, uses both existing phylogenetic trees and allopatric speciation to justify generating "new" species names.

    For his part, Hoser maintains that the distinctions are often self-explanatory. “Sometimes it's so bloody self-evident that you don't need to resort to molecular-f***ing-genetics and DNA to work out the difference,” Hoser said. “It's like working out the difference between an elephant and a hippopotamus—they’re obviously different animals. You don’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure out the difference.”

    His colleagues disagree. “He puts the name on straight away without any evidence,” says Thomson of Hoser. “It’s like throwing darts at a dart board with his eyes closed, and every now and then he hits a bull’s-eye.”

    In 2009, Hoser petitioned the ICZN to redefine the lethal Western Diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) as the holotype for a new genus he proposed naming "Hoserea" after his wife. He was declined. (Rolf Nussbaumer Photography / Alamy)

    While the ICZN doesn’t have the power to regulate these problems, that doesn’t mean individual taxonomists are sitting quietly by.

    The scientific community often opts collectively to reject the names that vandals ascribe, even if they’re technically Code-compliant, according to several taxonomists I spoke with. Strictly speaking, this is against the rules of the Code—the names are official, after all. But according to Wolfgang Wüster, a herpetologist at Bangor University, many herpetologists “are scientists first and nomenclaturists second.”

    Kaiser, Wüster and other taxonomists have been leading the fight to stamp out vandalism within herpetology. “The scientific community currently appears almost unanimous in their approach not to use Hoser’s nomenclature,” Wolfgang Denzer, a herpetologist, wrote in a critical review of Hoser’s conquests in the open access, peer-reviewed journal Bonn zoological Bulletin.

    As stated, many herpetologists refuse to use the name Spracklandus, a name they say is a product of vandalism. Instead they use Afronaja, the name coined by scientists who first published data, which, taxonomists say, Hoser scooped. Unfortunately, this results in what taxonomists call “parallel nomenclature”: when a single taxon is known by more than one name.

    Parallel nomenclature is exactly what the Code was intended to prevent.

    And for good reason. Confusion created by parallel nomenclature complicates any process that depends on unambiguous species names, such as assigning conservation statuses like “Endangered” or “Threatened.” As the authors write in the Nature editorial, how a species is classified by taxonomists influences how threatened it appears, and thus how much conservation funding it’s likely to receive. As the authors of the editorial write: “Vagueness is not compatible with conservation.”

    Parallel nomenclature could also make it more difficult to acquire an export permit for research, taxonomists say. “If you are in one country that uses vandalistic names and try to export an animal, your import and export permits won’t match, which means animals get held up when you cross borders,” Thomson said.

    These kind of detrimental consequences—for science and conservation—are why some scientists are calling for a more dramatic solution: revising the Code itself.

    A table of "amphibia" from Carl Linnaeus' Systema Naturae. (Carl Linnaeus / Wikimedia Commons)

    The boycott against Hoser’s names remains widespread and “undeniably effective,” Yanega says. So effective, in fact, that Hoser submitted a request to the ICZN in 2013, in which he asked the commission to publicly confirm the validity of the name Spracklandus—a name that is already valid by the rule of the Code.

    “He was upset by the boycott,” Yanega says, adding that Hoser was seeking validation from the commission.

    “The Commission is asked to rule on these seemingly routine matters because widely promulgated recommendations by some herpetologists to use … Afronaja … instead has resulted in instability in nomenclature,” the case reads.

    But the case isn’t just about one genus, one name, and one vandal, say the taxonomists I spoke to. “It’s a test of not only which names are going to stand, but also a test—which is how I see it and my colleagues see it—of scientific integrity,” Kaiser says.

    It’s still unclear which way the commission will rule, Yanega says. “It depends on how objective we have to be and how well-phrased the question is before us.” If the question, which is still formulating through internal debate, is whether Hoser’s name is destabilizing taxonomy—that is, phrased as a technical, but not ethical, question—the commission will likely rule against him, Yanega adds.

    But it’s possible that the scales may tip the other way, Yanega says. And if they do tip in favor of Hoserherpetologists I spoke to said that they would have no choice but to abandon the Code altogether. “The rumors among herpetology are that if the Commission rules in Hoser’s favor, then it’s over,” Sherz said. “Then we drop the Code and make our own, because it just can’t work like this.”

    The authors of the Nature editorial offer up a solution: move the code under a different purview. Specifically, they suggest that the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS)—the biology branch of the International Council for Sciences—should “take decisive leadership” and start a taxonomic commission. The commission, they propose, would establish hardline rules for delineating new species and take charge in reviewing taxonomic papers for compliance. This process, they say, would result in the first ever standardized global species lists.

    "In our view, many taxonomists would welcome such a governance structure,” the authors write. “Reducing the time spent dealing with different species concepts would probably make the task of describing and cataloguing biodiversity more efficient.”

    But, barring that, a revision of the Code is unlikely to happen anytime soon, Yanega told me. Because the ICZN strives to act in everyone’s best interest, any change requires consensus across the taxonomic community. “Everything is done with some level of cooperation and consensus,” he said. “We would indeed be willing to change the rules, if we could ever get the community to come to a consensus as to how the rules should be changed.” So far, that hasn’t happened.

    Part of the problem is that most branches of taxonomy aren’t impacted as heavily as herpetology, where many prominent vandals operate. That’s because herpetology is home to thousands of undescribed species, so there’s plenty of low hanging fruit for vandals to pick. Moreover, “herpetology maybe does attract more interesting characters than other branches of science,” says Wüster. “Reptiles are kind of pariahs of the animal world”—as are some of the people who study them, it would appear.

    “Other disciplines within taxonomy don’t have the same sorts of problems with these same sorts of people,” Yanega says. If scientists who study birds and fish, for instance, are less exposed to the problem of vandalism, they’re not going to support a stricter Code, he adds: “To them, it sounds like you're being dictatorial or practicing censorship.”

    But, at least to the herpetologists I spoke to, that’s a price that researchers should be willing to pay for good science. “This is a compromise where we might have to give up some academic freedom for the sake of the community,” Kaiser says. “This crime needs to be weeded out.”